For media comment email refugeeactioncollective@gmail.com or call Chris on 0403 013 183, Lucy on 0404 728 104 or Margaret on 0417 031 533.

Four more Medevac refugees freed – now free the rest

14 November 2021

Four more Medevac refugees were freed in Melbourne on Saturday 13 November: three from the Park Hotel and one from MITA Detention Centre in Broadmeadows.

One of the men, Hamed, a 27-year-old Iranian refugee, said: “I can’t explain how I feel. After nine years they’ve released me but I still have friends in detention.

“I’ve got a visa but they don’t and we’re like a family, living together for nine years.

“I spent five and a half years on Nauru and 37 months here.

“You have to keep fighting for the others because nine years is too long.”

Hamed’s family has been released in Brisbane but Australian Border Force has not told him if it will transport him there. “Nothing, they just told me to sign the papers,” he said.

Azizi a 36-year-old Afghan refugee said: “I went to the mosque and see the back side (of the mosque). I can’t believe it really, I say I am free … I look at the back side and think maybe I have security, but I don’t. I am free. More than eight years I was in detention, today I am free. I am very happy.

“I’m happy for myself because I have freedom, but I’m very sad for my friends still in detention, it’s very hard for them, because it’s a long time. I ask please help take them out from detention, it’s enough, more than eight years enough.”

Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective said: “The Coalition government has not given reasons for the four refugees’ release, nor does it give a reason why it continues to detain the remaining Medevac refugees who are in exactly the same situation.

“Hamed, Azizi and the other men have been told they have just three weeks’ accommodation and then they are on their own. They have no money and just been given $100 Woolworths vouchers with no explanation of how or where to use them.

“They have no transport or Myki cards and their nearest Woolworths is over an hour away by foot. Like other released refugees they are effectively being resettled here but being dumped in the community with no support. One previously released refugee, Mahbubur Rahman, who has a severe spinal disability, has been homeless for months.

“It’s great to see these men walk free today. But every refugee in detention should be freed immediately.

“Hamed and Azizi, like the others, need a permanent visa and access to welfare and support, so theycan start to rebuild their lives.

“All those detained by the Australian government, onshore and offshore, have just been innocent pawns of the government’s cruel and racist anti-refugee politics.

“Today’s releases come after months of protracted legal cases, the outcry over COVID-19 in the Park Hotel, and the refugee movement’s long commitment to public protest.

“The best Christmas present for the refugees and all their supporters would be for the remaining detainees to be freed on permanent visas. Refugees are not a threat – we welcome them to our communities,” Breen said.

For more comment, ring Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.

The Refugee Action Collective has called a vigil from 6.30pm on Friday 10 December, International Human Rights Day, calling to free all the Medevac refugees on permanent visas.

Action alert: Refugee supporters to rally again, calling for freedom

6 November 2021

Refugee supporters will rally tomorrow (Sunday 7 November) outside the Park Hotel on Swanston Street, Carlton, at 2pm.

Speakers will include Mustafa, a refugee held inside the hotel (via phone) and Senator Janet Rice from the Greens.

Facebook event: https://fb.me/e/1nx4L0Gbw

Twenty-two of the 46 men detained in the hotel have tested positive to COVID-19 since 17 October. Seven of them are still being treated in the hotel and one is being treated in hospital.

The rally is being organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), with the support of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and Unionists for Refugees.

RAC spokesperson David Glanz said: “The men trapped in the Park hotel prison, who have been detained by the Australian government for more than eight years, should have been freed long before this outbreak occurred.

“More than 100 fellow refugees brought to Australia from offshore detention for medical treatment are now living and working in the community on bridging visas.

“It is nothing more than government cruelty that the men in the Park are still locked up in a building that almost could have been designed to spread COVID.

“Shamefully, Australian Border Force admits that only 57 per cent of detainees across its full network are fully vaccinated. It has never admitted how the virus entered the Park. But when men are locked in a hotel with no ventilation, including windows sealed shut, it was always inevitable that a guard or other worker would infect the people in the building.

“Freedom is the best defence against COVID.

“These men fled persecution in their home countries. Instead of welcoming them, the government locked them away on Nauru or Manus island and now cages them in a COVID trap.

“We are looking at cruelty piled on racism piled on failure of duty of care,” said Glanz.

“The men who are COVID-positive need to be moved to a proper facility for treatment. Those who are COVID-negative need to be moved to proper quarantine facilities.

“And once they are no longer at immediate risk from the virus, they need to be freed from detention and given permanent visas so they can rebuild their lives.”

For more comment: David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Action alert: Healthcare not Detention protest

22 October 2021

“Refugee supporters will protest the COVID-19 outbreak at the Park Hotel, calling for healthcare not detention this Saturday at 2pm, at 701 Swanston Street, Carlton,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“There are currently 15 refugees with confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are likely staff infected also, but Australia Border Force has made no comment on this. Inexplicably and dangerously three refugees are still waiting after five days to receive results for tests taken on Sunday night (17/10/21).

“The health of many refugees is deteriorating but no refugees have been seen by a doctor in person in the hotel. Only one nurse is on duty at the hotel and only during daytime.

“Many refugees have health conditions that make them especially vulnerable. One man with burns to 50 per cent of his body now has COVID-19. These refugees should have been first priority for vaccination, but they were last. One refugee is in hospital on oxygen. He had requested vaccination but was twice turned away from appointments and told his name was not on the list.

“Yesterday corrupt former NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid was released on bail from a seven-year jail sentence because of COVID-19 fears in prisons. The refugees in the Park Hotel have committed no crimes but are still detained.

“We are calling to free the refugees, for the hotel to be immediately evacuated, for those with COVID-19 to be assessed by doctors, and transferred to appropriate facilities, and for those residents who are negative to be transferred to ordinary hotel quarantine for their own safety.

“It’s hard to think of a more sustained and cruel crime in recent years than what has been done by the Australian government to the Medevac refugees. Detained for over eight years, attacked by the people who guarded them on Manus Island, locked up in Australia after being brought for medical treatment they often didn’t receive, and now in fear for their lives in the Park Hotel COVID-19 death trap.

“These refugees should never have been in the Park Hotel, they should have been released like the majority of the Medevac refugees. The government has never provided an explanation for why these men have received different treatment. That discrimination has left them in a sealed hotel, unable to open windows, socially distance or protect themselves. All have now been exposed to COVID-19.

“The Refugee Action Collective warned of precisely the current situation, with a safe car convoy protest in April last year. Out of that protest Chris Breen was charged with incitement (he has since been found not guilty) and 30 refugee supporters still face $50,000 in fines. Yet the authorities actually responsible for spreading COVID-19 face no consequences – nor are they acting to protect the refugees in their ‘care’.

“This COVID-19 outbreak is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s responsibility, the health and lives of these refugees is in his hands. The Andrews Labor government also has extensive health powers that would enable it to intervene, but it has not. It is not too late to act, to evacuate the refugees, and to provide them with quality healthcare, not detention,” concluded Breen.

Speakers include:

Mohammad – refugee detained at Park Hotel, via phone

Atena – junior taekwondo champion and Iranian refugee on bridging visa

Tim Read MP – Victorian Greens Justice & Health spokesperson

Chris Breen – Refugee Action Collective

Farhad Bandesh – Freed Medevac refugee via phone

Hassan Jaber – Justice for Refugees and Migrant Workers Centre

Chair – Lieke Janssen RAC

The rally has been endorsed by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Australian Education Union.

The rally will be COVID-safe. All participants are required to wear masks, check in with QR codes and follow COVID-safe directions. Police have given permission to have separated groups of 15.

For further comment call Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183.

Facebook event: https://fb.me/e/11fN13hiE

Court to rule on evacuation of Park Hotel refugees – ABF gives undertaking re COVID ambulance access

21 October 2021

“In a court hearing this afternoon at 3pm before Judge Driver of the Federal Circuit Court, Australian Border Force has given an undertaking that an ambulance would be allowed in to see one of the detained refugees who is very unwell with Covid-19,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“It also emerged during the hearing that none of the refugees with COVID-19 have been assessed by a doctor in person at the hotel. They are managed by one nurse overseen by a doctor via tele-health.

“Daniel Taylor, who appeared for one of the refugees, has called on ABF to evacuate the hotel, as they would if it was a cruise ship or an aged care home.

“The case to evacuate the hotel will be heard next Tuesday. The judge raised a query at the end of the hearing, that he could not see why a detention centre would be treated differently from any other Victorian facilities that had been evacuated during the pandemic.”

Breen concluded: “The Refugee Action Collective calls for the hotel to be immediately evacuated, for those with COVID-19 to be assessed by doctors and transferred to appropriate facilities, and for those residents who are negative to be transferred to ordinary hotel quarantine for their own safety.

“All should be immediately freed after they recover or have completed quarantine.”

A COVID-safe protest at the hotel has been called by the Refugee Action Collective – Saturday 23 October, 2pm, Lincoln Square.

For further comment call Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183.

Three refugees test positive for COVID-19 at Park Hotel, five in quarantine

17 October 2021

“Three refugees held at the Park Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne, have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 today. This confirms the worst fears of refugee advocates who have long warned that detention was not COVID-safe. All refugees in the Park Hotel, along with many staff, have likely been exposed to COVID-19,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Four refugees had been in isolation for the past three days with COVID symptoms. One of the men, Mohammad, a 35-year-old Kurdish refugee, said he had first experienced symptoms ‘five or six days ago’.”

Breen continued: “Mohammad said he had a COVID swab test on Friday at 10am. This morning a doctor from IMHS called at 11am and confirmed he had COVID-19 and that two other refugees were also positive. It is shocking that they have waited from Friday until Sunday to get test results and that no one else in Park Hotel has been tested. That failure has put everyone in Park Hotel at risk. One more person has been placed in quarantine today, to make a total of five.

“The IHMS doctor told Mohammad he should be moved to hospital but this has not happened yet. He has not seen a doctor since having symptoms five days ago. All he has been given is Panadol,” said Breen.

“Mohammad said ‘I am not good, I am shivering with fever and have an excruciating headache, pain in my waist, and I can’t even stand’.

“He also confirmed he had shortness of breath,” said Breen.

Mohammad said: “I feel no one cares about us, and they don’t want to stop using us for their dirty policy. We see on the news that only 10 people can be at a wedding, but here we are 45 refugees plus cleaners, Serco and IHMS. They knew it would happen sooner or later but they don’t want to do anything. What are they going to do to protect us? Everyone is at risk.”

Another refugee confirmed to have COVID-19 said: “I asked SERCO to take me to hospital. Because nobody takes care of me here. But they say people who are positive are not accepted in hospital. I woke up with a headache four days ago. I asked SERCO for Panadol. They called IHMS and then gave me Panadol and put me in isolation on Level 1. I got my COVID test on Friday. The doctor called me today to tell me it was positive.”

Breen continued: “To have placed COVID-positive quarantines on level 1 of an air-conditioned hotel is just more COVID negligence and a recipe to spread the infection. Vaccinations for refugees were delayed for far too long. Some have been fearful that vaccination might lead to them being sent offshore or to a worse detention centre. It is not clear how COVID-19 came into the hotel, but it must have been via guards or other staff.”

Refugees said:

We’re Very worries situation 45 men in park Hotel currently. 3 men Covid positive in Park Prison …We’re feel worried & scared . We can’t eat or sleep and think anymore . Is this how Australia treated people’s who came seeking safety… We’re unsafe situation COVID-19 let us free! Thanks

Breen concluded: “Refugees must get immediate access to doctors and all must have COVID tests. They must have facilities to safely and comfortably quarantine, and should all be freed as soon as any required quarantine period is complete.”

The Refugee Action Collective has called a COVID-safe protest for “Healthcare not Detention” at the Park Hotel at 2pm on Saturday 23 October, when groups of 15 will be allowed to gather outside in Victoria.

For further comment call Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183.

Police ban COVID-safe picnic for refugee freedom as MITA goes into COVID lockdown

8 October 2021

“In an outrageous move Victoria police have banned the right to picnic for a political purpose at the last minute,” said David Glanz for the Refugee Action Collective.

“This comes as the whole of Bass 2 compound in MITA enters lockdown, after having being exposed to COVID-19 for four days by a Serco guard who tested positive. Multiple warnings about the high risk of transmission in detention centres have been ignored by the federal Coalition government.

“Social distancing is impossible in detention, there have been numerous COVID protocol breaches, and the vaccination roll-out for refugees was delayed for far too long.

“Many in detention have medical conditions making them vulnerable to COVID-19. Refugees in MITA and the Park Hotel must be released to protect them from COVID-19. The Andrews Labor government must step in to protect refugees held in Victoria instead of clamping down on those drawing attention to the problem,” Glanz said.

He added: “In two separate phone calls, police had assured refugee supporters that they could have a picnic in Lincoln Square opposite the Park Hotel, where 46 Medevac refugees are currently being held after eight years in detention. Police told RAC they could picnic so long as picnic groups were well separated, and following COVID-19 rules regarding masks and size of groups.

“At the last minute, police have changed their advice, saying by text message: ‘Vicpolice received legal advice in relation to all protest activity. You cannot come together for a common purpose outside the current reasons to leave home. You simply cannot protest at this time’.

“Police are unable to give clear and consistent advice because it has become obvious the rules are political and not health measures,” said Glanz.

“There would have been no more people in Lincoln Square than any other park this weekend – the only difference is that some of us would have held signs and waved up at the imprisoned refugees while in our separate picnic groups. If people are currently allowed to come together for advertised comedy entertainment in parks, why not to call for refugee freedom?

“Premier Andrews has said that with vaccination levels of 70 and 80 per cent there will be a ‘massive prioritisation to outdoor activity because it is so much safer than indoors’ so why then still no right to protest for groups who do everything possible to abide by COVID-19 safety measures?

“With 80 per cent fully vaccinated around 5 November, Premier Andrews’ roadmap says 150 people will be allowed at pubs and restaurants indoors, and 500 outdoors for a commercial purpose, but still only 30 allowed to gather outside for a protest,” continued Glanz.

“Federal and State governments continue to do nothing to protect refugees from the risk of COVID-19. The refugees must all be freed and their eight-year lockdown brought to an end,” said Glanz.

“The Refugee Action Collective will not hold our Picnic for Refugee Freedom at 2pm on Saturday but we will not be deterred. People are free to picnic in solidarity at Lincoln Square at any time, as they can in any other public park.”

For further comment call David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Picnic details:

https://fb.me/e/17Lh4NURE

Home Affairs’ cruelty to refugees ‘unchecked by workplace regulator’? – advocates

28 September 2021

The Department of Home Affairs, already facing Work Health and Safety Act charges alleging health neglect of a man who later suicided at Sydney’s Villawood immigration detention centre, is reportedly neglecting another Villawood detainee.

The Act’s regulator, Comcare, is supposed to “monitor and enforce compliance with this Act” (s152(b)). Refugee advocate groups ask: “Is Comcare doing its job?”

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney (RAC) and Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) (RAC (Vic)) today condemned the apparently ongoing and unchecked cruelty of Home Affairs towards people held in immigration detention facilities (IDFs), and called on Comcare to “lift its game”. RAC and RAC (Vic) are community-based campaigners for refugee rights. Their email lists run to several thousand each.

RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul said: “We are not alone in alleging detainee mistreatment. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, ‘Use of force in immigration detention’, was a response to complaints of detention centre cruelty. And, as Amnesty International Australia’s National Director, Samantha Klintworth, commented on 8 July this year, following the UN Human Rights Council’s review of Australia’s detention regime:

The Australian Government’s decision to ignore key recommendations from UN member states … is extremely disappointing. … 47 wanted Australia to stop offshore processing and mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees. … Australia must end [the] indefinite detention of refugees and people seeking asylum, and offer protection in line with its international human rights obligations … .

“Within this regime,” Rintoul added, “cruelty to individuals continues. As Sarah Price reported in The Saturday Paper of 18 September this year, asylum-seeker Imasi Yousef, a close contact of a COVID-positive guard at Villawood, was being isolated ‘in a high-security cell … [with] no window. The lights … cannot be dimmed or turned off. For the first time …, Imasi has been given a mask. [Imasi said the cell is] where they send troublemakers … It is designed for torture … not for quarantine … I am going crazy here …’.

“Imasi is stateless and has been detained for nearly 12 years, with no end in sight,” Rintoul said, adding that, “stateless people have no country to be deported to, and so, according to Australia’s High Court, if they’re found not to be refugees, they can be lawfully detained indefinitely, for life.”

RAC (Vic) member and retired ex-WorkSafe Victoria solicitor Max Costello says: “Blatant disregard for a detainee’s mental or physical health is a criminal offence under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) (WHS Act), which applies to all Commonwealth government workplaces, including IDFs.

“On 3 March this year,” adds Costello, “the Department of Home Affairs (which operates all IDFs) and the Morrison government’s contracted health provider were both charged with two WHS Act offences each, alleging serious health neglect of a Villawood detainee who took his own life (in 2019). The charges were based on a brief of evidence prepared by Comcare inspectors.”

“Yet six months later,” says Ian Rintoul, “the mental health of another Villawood detainee (Imasi) is being put at serious risk. Apparently, Home Affairs would rather be cruel than law-abiding.”

Rintoul and Costello concluded: “Comcare inspectors must now probe for ‘isolation torture’ and other Act-breaching practices across the IDF network (such as leaving people COVID-unvaccinated), and issue compliance-compelling notices. If they later gather probative evidence of persistent non-compliance, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions can lay more WHS Act charges.”

For comment: Max Costello 0425 701 690; Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

Action alert: solidarity with hunger strikers

30 July 2021

Refugee supporters will gather today at 5pm at the Northern Hospital in the Melbourne suburb of Epping in solidarity with hunger striking refugees.

Ten Medevac refugees in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) have been on hunger strike protest since 15 July, demanding their immediate release from detention.  

Three of the hunger strikers are now in hospital.

Two were hospitalised on 22 July; a third refugee was taken to hospital by ambulance on 28 July.

Another two protesters have been hospitalised in recent days for up to 24 hours before being discharged and returned to MITA.

All the current hunger strikers had also been on hunger strike from 17 June to 3 July. Their situation has become more precarious since the hunger strikers are refusing medical attention from IHMS, the detention medical provider.

Refugee supporters will gather in a COVID-safe way to demand their freedom. An online petition with that demand has gathered 3000 signatures in less than a week.

For interviews or more information, ring David Glanz from the Refugee Action Collective on 0438 547 723.

Health and safety regulator investigates Biloela Tamil girl’s alleged health neglect

16 July 2021

On 13 July 2021, Comcare, the federal regulator of workplace health and safety, emailed Max Costello a member of the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) to advise that, “in relation to the concerns you raised” about “the medical care of Tharnicaa Murugappan between May and June 2021”, Comcare “has an open inspection”.

At a national Zoom meeting on 15 July 2021, refugee advocacy organisations and individuals welcomed Comcare’s decision to investigate.

Max Costello for the Refugee Action Collective said: “In May, Tharnicaa, then aged three, was being held – with her mother Priya, father Nades, and six-year-old sister Kopika – in an immigration detention facility (IDF), a small cabin on Christmas Island. The ‘concerns raised’ were that the neglect of Tharnicaa’s health involved apparent criminal offences against the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) (WHS Act) – which applies to all Commonwealth workplaces, including IDFs. Comcare’s role is “to monitor and enforce compliance with this Act”.

“All IDFs are operated by the Australian Border Force (ABF) unit of the Department of Home Affairs, whose Minister is Karen Andrews (it used to be Dutton). International Health and Medical Services Pty Ltd (IHMS) is contracted by the Commonwealth government to provide health care to IDF detainees. ABF oversees the work of IHMS.

“On or about 20 May, as reported by Rebekah Holt in The Saturday Paper (12/6/21), Tharnicaa caught a cold; but after four days, a fever and flu-like symptoms developed (she was actually getting pneumonia). On day 13, 5 June, her temperature had reached 39.9 degrees. Next day she was taken to the local hospital, where a blood sample was taken. On day 15, 7 June, an emergency air ambulance flight took her, and Priya, to Perth. Tharnicaa is now an outpatient of Perth’s children’s hospital.

“Comcare is investigating whether Tharnicaa’s health care complied with the WHS Act. It imposes on Commonwealth workplace operators such as Home Affairs/ABF a duty to pro-actively and preventatively safeguard the health and safety of both ‘workers’ and ‘other persons’ at their workplace. Tharnicaa is one of those ‘other persons’. Non-compliance with that duty is a heavily penalised criminal offence.

“Tharnicaa’s parents are Tamils from Sri Lanka who have sought asylum here – so far unsuccessfully. The family’s claims for protection continue in the courts and a tribunal. After the family were abruptly taken in 2018 from their place in Biloela, Queensland, they’ve been held in IDFs including, since August 2019, the one on Christmas Island. Keeping them there has cost Australian taxpayers over $6 million.

“Since mid-June, the whole family has been living in a Perth house provided by Home Affairs, while Tharnicaa receives care. It’s a short-term situation, arranged by Immigration Minister Hawke. His media release of 15 June, noting the family’s legal claims, said that people ‘found not to be owed protection will be expected to leave Australia’. The house is a good deal closer to Perth’s airport than the hospital. Why?” continued Costello.

“The people of Biloela welcomed the family and haven’t stopped campaigning for them: their 2021 ‘bring them home’ petition garnered over 500,000 signatures nationwide. With the stroke of a pen, Ministers Andrews or Hawke could return the family to Biloela, where, under appropriate visa arrangements, Nades could resume work at the meatworks and Tharnicaa’s health care could continue.

“The presumption of innocence of course applies to any party being investigated. But Home Affairs and IHMS are already facing two WHS Act charges each, alleging health neglect of a detainee. The charges, laid on 3 March this year, followed a Comcare investigation into the 2019 suicide death of a detainee at Sydney’s Villawood IDF.

“For decades, the focus of refugee lawyers (nearly all acting pro bono) and advocates has been almost exclusively on alleged breaches of civil law – such as breaches of international human rights instruments ratified by Australia, and breaches of the duty of care at common law (judge-made law). But with the Villawood prosecution and the current Comcare investigation, there is a further focus – on whether the alleged health neglect of IDF detainees involves statutory, criminal law offences,” concluded Costello

For further comment call Max Costello from the Refugee Action Collective on 0425 701 690. (Max Costello is a former prosecuting solicitor with WorkSafe Victoria, now retired.)

Action alert: Defend the right to protest: free the refugees

12 July 2021

Refugee supporters will rally for the right to protest outside Heidelberg Magistrates Court at 9am on Tuesday July 13.

Speakers include:

Dr Tim Read, MP for Brunswick and Greens spokesperson for Justice
Mel Slee, Victorian Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union
Cr Angelica Panopoulos, Moreland City councillor (chair)

“Thirty refugee supporters were fined on 10 April 2020 for taking part in a COVID-safe car convoy rally to the Mantra Hotel in Preston, which housed some 60 Medevac refugees,” said Angelica Panopoulos for the Refugee Action Collective/

“The fines total almost $50,000 and are being challenged in court.

“Refugee Action Collective member Chris Breen was found not guilty for an ‘incitement’ charge for the same car convoy protest. These fines should be withdrawn.

“The car convoy protest was essential, drawing attention to the plight of the Medevac refugees and the risk of Covid-19 in detention – a risk to both the refugees and public health.

“Over 100 Medevac refugees have now been freed, but around 90 are about to enter their ninth year of indefinite detention. Protesting for refugee rights is more essential than ever.

“Showing compassion for refugees is not a crime and not a health risk.

“It is locking up refugees that is the real crime,” concluded Panopoulos.

For more info call Angelica Panopoulos, 0478 686 370, from the Refugee Action Collective.

Rally today in solidarity with Medevac hunger strikers

2 July 2021

“Refugee supporters will rally this afternoon, Friday 2 July, from 4.30pm at Broadmeadows detention centre (MITA) 150 Camp Rd Broadmeadows in solidarity with refugees on hunger strike.

“Fifteen people remain on hunger strike after 15 days. Fourteen of the hunger strikers are Medevac refugees, who came to Australia for medical treatment,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

Vali, one of the hunger strikers, said: “We are on hunger strike for our freedom. We want to know what is the difference between us and other released Medevac refugees? Why are we still in detention?

“I came here in 2018 when I was told I was approved to go to the US. When will I be released?”

Breen continued: “Three of the hunger strikers have been hospitalised and remain in the Northern Hospital. Coalition Minister Peter Dutton claimed some Medevac refugees were released because their detention was too expensive but no one from the government will answer the refugees’ questions about what is different about their cases. The financial and human costs remain too high for these refugees.

“The hunger strike is a response to the barbarity of indefinite detention. This month will be the start of the ninth year of detention for the Medevac refugees. The government has the power to resolve the situation by releasing these refugees into the community like the other Medevac refugees. The Refugee Action Collective holds fears for the health of the hunger strikers, and urges the Coalition government to free the refugees. None of them should be in detention, which continues to damage their health. Any further damage to their health is entirely preventable.”

Speakers at the rally include refugees via phone: Vali, and Hamed from inside MITA detention centre, and Medhi from BITA detention centre in Brisbane.

For further comment call Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183.

Refugee supporters to rally at MITA in solidarity with hunger strikers

25 June 2021

Friday 25 June, 4.30pm to 6pm, 150 Camp Rd, Broadmeadows

Speakers will include refugees via phone from inside MITA; Mahshid Zartabi – Solidarity with Asylum Seekers in Australia; and Betia Shakiba – law student and Iranian refugee on SHEV visa

Facebook event: https://fb.me/e/1fnPpnQnR

Eight refugees brought from Manus and Nauru under the Medevac legislation in 2019 remain on a hunger strike that began in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) detention centre on 17 June.

Six other hunger strikers are currently in hospital. There are serious concerns for one of them, who has been in the Northern Hospital for four days. Another refugee who was hospitalised earlier has been returned to the detention centre.

Supporters will rally outside MITA this afternoon (Friday) to call for their freedom.

“We are extremely concerned for the welfare of the hunger strikers,” said David Glanz from the Refugee Action Collective (Vic). “It is an indication of the seriousness of the situation that people are collapsing and requiring medical intervention so early in a hunger strike protest.”

“Why is the government torturing us for so many years?” one of the MITA hunger strikers said. “We want to know what is different between us and the others [Medevac refugees] who were released six months ago? We can’t be in detention anymore.”

Glanz said: “All the Medevac refugees must be released. In many cases, the government has not even provided medical treatment they were brought to Australia to receive. After detention on Manus and Nauru, and two years of detention in Australia, every day in detention worsens their mental distress. They need freedom.

“At the same time as the High Court has yet again ruled in favour of indefinite detention, and the Migration Act has been changed to allow it, refugees are on hunger strike protesting just that – demanding to end the injustice of almost eight years of indefinite detention.

“When there is no justice in the courts or parliament, it will take further protest to free the refugees.”

About 100 Medevac refugees were released into the community between December 2020 and February 2021, yet despite government announcements that all Medevac refugees would be released, none has been released since February. Around 90 Medevac refugees are still being held in hotels and detention centres in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

As well, there are people brought for medical treatment after the repeal of the Medevac legislation still held in closed detention in Sydney, Darwin and Adelaide.

Thirty-three Medevac refugees remain in the Park Hotel in Carlton.

For more information contact David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Compassion not detention, free Tharnicaa and the Biloela Family

11 June 2021

Rally: 2pm, Saturday 12 June, State Library, 328 Swanston Street

Speakers include:
Barathan Vidhyapathy – Tamil Refugee Council
Samantha Ratnam – leader, Victorian Greens

Josh Burns – ALP MP

Facebook event.

Three-year-old Tharnicaa from Biloela has been medically evacuated to Perth with Mum, Priya, after being hospitalised on Christmas Island with untreated pneumonia. She turns four this Saturday.

Her deteriorating condition was ignored for almost two weeks despite a temperature peaking above 40C and desperate pleas from her mother for hospital care.

“The family have been isolated in detention on Christmas Island without adequate medical care for political reasons – to keep them away from support on the mainland,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective (Vic).

“Supporters of the family will gather at the State Library, 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne, at 2pm this Saturday 12 June to wish Tharnicaa happy birthday, to wish her a speedy recovery and, most of all, to call for her freedom and for the freedom of the rest of her family, and for them to be permanently resettled in Australia.

“The possibility of resettlement in the US or New Zealand raised by the Foreign Minister and the Home Affairs Minister appears to be nothing other than a cruel distraction. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has now backtracked, saying ‘I actually haven’t said that I’m investigating resettlement options for that family’. In any case, Karen Andrews has the power to release the family into the Australian community, where they are loved and wanted.”

Breen continued: “Over 500,000 people have signed a petition calling to free Priya, Nades and their two young daughters Tharnicaa and Kopica and bring them home to Biloela in Queensland.

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ignored this democratic wave of support while elsewhere claiming to be a champion of ‘freedom’.”

Scott Morrison will claim in a speech for the G7 summit that “Our challenge is nothing less than to reinforce, renovate and buttress a world order that favours freedom.” But at the same time his government has locked up four-year-old Tharnicaa, five-year-old Kopica and their parents for more than three years, Breen said.

Breen continued: “This cruelty is of a piece with locking up hundreds of recognised refugees for eight years now, both offshore and onshore; and of a piece with legislation recently rammed through parliament, allowing the government to detain refugees for life and to give the Immigration Minister the power to revoke refugee status.

“The Coalition government claims that locking up this family on a remote island has anything to do with ‘deterring people smugglers’ is an absurd lie. RAC Tharnicaa, Kopica and parents Priya and Nades must be set free and brought home to Biloela,” concluded Breen

RAC also supports the message from Doctors for Refugees, widely circulated on social media, which says:

“Don’t Discharge to Detention. We support health care providers who choose not to discharge patients into immigration detention. Both Doctors for Refugees and the Australian Medical Association stand against children in detention, and the inhumane conditions all detainees face.”

Please note this rally will be Covid-safe.

Attendees must live within 25km of the State Library to attend.

Attendees must follow marshal directions on arrival to get into well spaced out groups of 10.

Signing in with rally QR codes is essential.

All attendees must wear masks.

Do not attend if you have any cold/flu symptoms – get a COVID test instead.

Casey Cardinia for Refugees will also hold a vigil for Tharnicaa and family on Saturday 12 June, at 9.45am outside Woolworths Berwick 1-9 Lyall Rd Berwick. Call Gwyneth Jones for more info on the Berwick vigil on 0419 581 424.

Call Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183 for further comment.

Refugee activist found not guilty on incitement charge

29 March 2021

Refugee Action Collective Victoria member Chris Breen has been found not guilty on the charge of incitement.

The charge was brought in relation to a Facebook event for a COVID-safe car convoy protesting the detention of Medevac refugees at the Mantra Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston on 10 April 2020.

The charge was dismissed on the grounds that the police could not prove that the Facebook posts they relied upon had been made by Breen and not another member of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), or had been made during the relevant time period.

Almost 30 refugee supporters still have fines of $1652 each outstanding, totalling $50,000. Challenges to the fines will be heard in court in coming months.

Breen said for RAC: “The charge of incitement was an attempt by police to criminalise protest and should never have been brought. The Andrews Labor government should instruct police not to pursue such political charges and to drop the fines against refugee supporters.

“The real crime has been the prolonged indefinite detention of refugees. There should be charges laid against Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for what has been done to refugees by the Coalition Government.

“After eight years of needless detention, the majority of the refugees who were in the Mantra Hotel are now free, but 11 remain cruelly held in the Park Hotel in Carlton. Over 80 Medevac refugees are still held around Australia. Some 1200 refugees who were sent offshore in 2013, including Medevac refugees, are now effectively resettled in Australia, but without any support, including no access to JobSeeker. That must change and they must be given permanent visas,” said Breen.

“This outcome is an important victory for the right to protest. That right was also demonstrated in practice yesterday when 2000 refugee supporters rallied in Melbourne on Palm Sunday calling to free all refugees from detention, give them permanent visas, and end offshore processing.

“There has never been a COVID-19 case transmitted from a rally anywhere in Australia. However, there are now 13 refugees with COVID-19 in Port Moresby, who have been left in Australian-funded hotels without support. It is the Coalition government that has been negligent, disregarding the threat of COVID-19, not refugee rights protesters.

“The refugees in PNG with COVID-19 and others who remain at risk of catching it are still under Australian care. They should be brought here to safety for permanent resettlement now.”

Breen continued: “There has never been a legitimate reason for offshore processing. But particularly when no refugees have come to Australia under the humanitarian program (which has a current quota of 13,750) since March 2020, it demonstrates how easily the 260 refugees in limbo offshore in PNG and Nauru could be brought here. It is only dirty politics that leaves them offshore and that must end.

“The Refugee Action Collective would like to thank Fitzroy Legal Service, solicitor Odette Shenfield and barristers Gordon Chisholm and Julian Murphy for their work in the case. We would like to thank in particular Medevac refugee Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus), who gave evidence in court.”

For further comment call Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183.

Refugee supporters to rally as incitement case resumes

16 March 2021

The case against Chris Breen, the Refugee Action Collective member charged with incitement in connection with a COVID-safe car convoy in support of refugees imprisoned at the Bell City Mantra Hotel in Preston, will resume at 10am tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

Tomorrow’s sitting will hear closing legal arguments. The verdict will follow, either on the same day or later, depending on the magistrate’s wishes.

Refugee supporters will rally outside the court at 233 William Street from 9am. Facebook event.

RAC spokesperson David Glanz said: “Our rally on 10 April last year aimed to highlight the COVID risk for refugees detained in the Mantra hotel in Preston. Our protest was COVID-safe, with participants in their cars throughout.”

“Our aim was to highlight the plight of the refugees and demonstrate care and compassion by showing them they had support.

“Breen didn’t even participate – he was arrested at his home and held in Preston police cells for nine hours for the alleged crime of posting on Facebook for the event.

“Yet as the events of the past year have shown, the risk to the community does not come from public protest but from the hotel quarantine system and reliance on a casualised workforce.

“Detention is the risk, not showing care and compassion for refugees who have been locked up by the Australian government for almost eight years.”

The defence campaign for Breen and for 30 people fined $1652 each for taking part in the convoy has attracted wide support, including 10 members of parliament, 11 union branches and many refugee, community and faith organisations.

Media and the public can observe tomorrow’s case online. Observers should mute themselves and turn off their video.

For more information or interviews: David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Refugee rally calls for freedom and permanent protection

19 February 2021

Refugee supporters will march through the city tomorrow (Saturday 20 Feb) calling for the release of the 13 men still detained in the Park Hotel in Carlton.

They will also be calling on the federal government to free all refugees, whether detained onshore including Christmas Island or still exiled offshore in Nauru or PNG (including some held in a PNG detention facility), and grant them permanent protection.

The rally has been called by the Refugee Action Collective Vic (RAC) and is supported by 45 other organisations.

It will gather at the State Library at 12 noon, marching to the Park Hotel to arrive at 1pm. Facebook event.

Speakers include:

• Don Khan – refugee live via phone from the Park Hotel prison
• Andrew Giles – federal Labor MP and Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs
• Dr Tim Read MP – Greens’ justice spokesperson
• Tony Birch – writer, historian, activist
• Speaker from Victorian Trades Hall Council
• Hassan Jaber – Justice for Refugees

RAC spokesperson David Glanz said the 13 refugees who remained in the Park Hotel after the release of some 60 fellow refugees were struggling to get by. The hotel is designated by Border Force as an “alternative place of detention” (APOD).

“They have already been held by the Australian government for more than seven and a half years – six years offshore and a year and a half in detention in Australia.

“This week they were traumatised further by what at first appeared to be a positive COVID case among the guards. The men had their temperatures taken and were isolated in their rooms by staff in full hazmat suits.

“One of the men has been on hunger strike since last weekend.

“There are a further 162 refugees in detention across Australia and 260 still held prisoner offshore. The government brought 12 more people from Nauru this week, meaning there are fewer refugees now on Nauru than New Zealand has offered to resettle. There are no excuses to delay bringing the rest here.

“If some refugees can be freed, all can be freed. They should not have to wait one day longer. We will be protesting to free them all,” said Glanz.

The freed refugees have been released on “final departure bridging visas” and given only short-term housing and funds.

Glanz said: “After that they get nothing. They cannot get JobSeeker and are barred from studying. Like all the refugees held by the government, they must be released into the community with permanent visas and income support.

“The APOD detainees were brought here for medical and/or psychiatric care, but few have received it. The government must provide and pay for that care.

“For almost eight years they have been locked up without opportunity to gain education, skills or qualifications. The Australian government has an obligation to repair the suffering it has caused.”

The rally will be COVID-safe. RAC calls on all those attending to wear masks, socially distance and gather in groups of no more than 20. RAC will provide a QR code for registration and a sanitiser station, and will have a team of COVID marshals guiding the rally.

More info and interviews: David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Refugee supporters to rally as incitement case resumes

9 February 2021

The case against Chris Breen, the Refugee Action Collective member charged with incitement in connection with a COVID-safe car convoy in support of refugees imprisoned at the Bell City Mantra Hotel in Preston, will resume at 2pm tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

The hearing began on 27 January with evidence from the police and Breen, who was examined for three hours. Tomorrow’s sitting will hear remaining witnesses and submissions by the prosecution and defence.

Refugee supporters will rally outside the court at 233 William Street from 1pm. Facebook event.

RAC spokesperson David Glanz said it was not too late for the police to drop the charge. “Our rally on 10 April last year aimed to highlight the COVID risk for refugees detained in the Mantra hotel in Preston. Our protest was COVID-safe, with participants in their cars throughout.”

“Our aim was to highlight the plight of the refugees and demonstrate care and compassion by showing them they had support.

“Breen didn’t even participate – he was arrested at his home and held in Preston police cells for nine hours for the alleged crime of posting on Facebook for the event.

“Yet as the events of the past year have shown, the risk to the community does not come from public protest but from the hotel quarantine system and reliance on a casualised workforce.

“Detention is the risk, not showing care and compassion for refugees who have been locked up by the Australian government for almost eight years.”

The defence campaign for Breen and for 30 people fined $1652 each for taking part in the convoy has attracted wide support, including 10 members of parliament, 11 union branches and many refugee, community and faith organisations.

Media and the public can observe tomorrow’s case online. Observers should mute themselves and turn off their video. Cisco Webex Meetings – Start Your Meeting

For more information or interviews: David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

DIARY NOTE: RAC will be holding a major rally calling for the release of all Medevac refugees and for them to be granted permanent visas in the city on Saturday 13 February, starting at 2pm at the State Library. Facebook event.

Refugee supporters to rally at court for right to protest

26 January 2021

Refugee supporters will rally at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court at 8.30am tomorrow (Wednesday) in support of Chris Breen and the right to protest.

The rally has been called by the Refugee Action Collective (Vic) and is endorsed by a range of organisations including the Tamil Refugee Council, Justice for Refugees, Teachers for Refugees, Labor for Refugees and Unionists for Refugees.

Breen is a teacher and a state councillor with the Australian Education Union, which will support the rally, as will other unions including the National Tertiary Education Union, the Health and Community Services Union and the Maritime Union of Australia.

Speakers outside the court include:

  • Farhad Bandesh – Medevac refugee released after 7 years
  • Barathan Vidhyapathy – Tamil Refugee Council
  • Tim Read, MP for Brunswick and Greens’ justice spokesperson
  • Chris Breen

Chris Breen, a member of RAC, faces court for the charge of “incitement” under the 1958 Crimes Act for helping to organise a COVID-safe car convoy protest on Good Friday, calling to free refugees because of the risk of getting the virus.

Thirty refugee supporters received fines of $1652 each for participating in this protest (making almost $50,000 in total).

RAC spokesperson David Glanz said: “The protest was part of a year-long campaign to free refugees brought to Australia under the Medevac legislation – a campaign that has so far resulted in 60 men gaining their freedom, including 12 men to be released from MITA on Thursday.

“So the protest was not only COVID-safe but absolutely necessary.

“The charge of incitement, however, sets a very worrying precedent for unions, climate activists and all social movements.

“Even after the health regulations are long gone, if Chris is convicted, the same law could be used against unions or activist groups for organising protests, picket lines or industrial action.”

Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, 233 William Street in the city
Wednesday 27 January, 8.30am to 9.30am

The event will be COVID-safe – participants are encouraged to wear masks, socially distance and register their attendance
Facebook event

For more information or comment: David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Twelve more Medevac refugees are to be released in Melbourne next Thursday

22 January 2021

“Twelve more Medevac refugees are to be released from the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) detention centre in Broadmeadows next Thursday,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Eight refugees were called into a meeting today, and told they would be granted bridging visas, another four not in the meeting were also on the list to get visas. The refugees were told the delay in their release was because of paperwork, and the public holiday next week.”

Breen continued: “The releases are absolutely welcome, but 14 are still left behind in the Park Hotel, which is cruel and unnecessary. One attempted self-harm yesterday fearing he would not be released.

“The refugees should not have to wait another day for freedom, the releases must begin immediately from Kangaroo Point and BITA in Brisbane, and Villawood in Sydney as well.”

One of the 12 is Thanush Selvarasa, a 31-year-old Tamil refugee who has spent a quarter of his life in detention. He said:

“I’m so excited that after eight years I got the good news I will be free on Thursday. This is such a wonderful moment for me. My mother has been waiting year by year for just one message from me – on Thursday I can finally call her and say ‘hello mother I’m a free man’.

“I have been waiting for eight years to tell my mother that. I can’t wait until that beautiful moment, she will be so happy. People sometimes don’t realise the value of things until they lose something in their life, or have it taken from them. I know the value of freedom.”

Breen continued: “Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told 2GB radio yesterday that ‘It’s cheaper for people to be in the community than it is to be at hotel, or for us to be paying for them to be in detention’ – in that case (as the refugee movement has argued for years) he should release all refugees held by Australia into the community immediately.

“Any money saved should be used to compensate refugees who are being dumped into the community with almost no support, just two weeks’ accommodation and three weeks’ financial support,” concluded Breen.

A major refugee rally planned for 2pm on Saturday 13 February at the State Library will go ahead to welcome the freed refugees, to demand the rest are immediately freed, that they are all granted permanent visas, and to bring the 300 refugee remaining in PNG and Nauru here.

Facebook event is here.

For further comment call Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183.

Freedom at last for Medevac refugees – now free them all, and let them stay

21 January 2021

“Twenty-four more Medevac refugees will be released today after a long struggle for freedom,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“The refugees are being driven today at around 11am from Park Hotel where they are currently detained, to be finally released outside MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows.

“They have been held by the Australian government for almost eight years, six years offshore and almost two years in hotel prisons onshore. Fourteen will remain in the Park Hotel and more who are very sick are still in MITA in Broadmeadows. Around 100 remain in Kangaroo Point in Brisbane and more in BITA but there are expectations that they will soon be released.”

“The government has not given a reason for their release. It is not clear if the release is because many had cases before the Federal Circuit Court or the government has finally cracked under the pressure of a long campaign for freedom, by the refugees themselves in detention, and a large movement of supporters outside.

“A statement from Australian Border Force persisted with the lie that ‘they can continue on their resettlement to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG, or return to their home country’. However the US deal is finished, PNG and Nauru are not taking back Australia’s refugees, and the Medevac refugees have almost all been determined to be refugees so cannot be deported to danger (refouled) to their home countries.

“One of the detained refugees, Ramsiyar Sabanayagam, said ‘We are very happy and very excited to be released into the community after eight years, I can’t believe it, I don’t know if this is real or fake, it’s unbelievable’.

“What is unbelievable is that it took almost eight years for the Coalition to release them. The refugees could have been released instead of forcibly moved from the Mantra hotel a few months ago. They could have been released instead of forcibly moved when the original Manus detention centre was closed in 2017.

“They could have been released after Reza Barati was murdered and 70 seriously injured in 2014. They could have been brought to Australia and processed here in the first place. That would have saved lives, incalculable human cost, and tens of billions of dollars.

“The era of refugee-bashing for attempted political gain must be brought to a close. All of the remaining Medevac refugees in the Park Hotel, Kangaroo Point in Brisbane and around Australia must be freed, and they must all be able to stay permanently,” concluded Breen.

There will be a major refugee rally in Melbourne on February 13 at 2pm at the State Library calling to free all the Medevac refugees and for them to be allowed to stay permanently.

Speakers include

  • Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz) – Kurdish refugee held in the Park Hotel
  • Farhad Bandesh – recently released Medevac refugee
  • Luke Hilakari – Secretary Victorian Trades Hall Council
  • Lidia Thorpe – Federal Greens Senator
  • Andrew Giles – Federal Labor MP for Scullin, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs
  • Tony Birch – writer, historian and activist
  • Craig Foster – football legend and #GameOver refugee advocate

Call Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183 for further comment.

Support grows to say: free the Medevac refugees

8 January 2021

Almost 50 organisations have united to support a rally calling for freedom for the refugees detained in the Park Hotel in Carlton.

The rally will start at the State Library at 2pm tomorrow, Saturday 9 January, before marching up Swanston Street to the Park Hotel, next to Lincoln Square, by 3pm. It has been called by the Refugee Action Collective Victoria (RAC).

To see the full list of endorsers, visit the Facebook event.

Speakers include:
• Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus) – refugee detained in the Park Hotel, live via phone
• Farhad Bandesh – recently released Medevac refugee
• Ged Kearney – federal Labor MP for Cooper
• Samantha Ratnam – leader of the Victorian Greens
• Craig Foster – football legend and #GameOver campaigner, via phone from Sydney
• Pip Carew – Assistant State Secretary, Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation
• Ahmad Hakim – Refugee Voices

RAC spokesperson David Glanz said the rally would be demanding that the 60 men in the Park Hotel are freed immediately, with permanent visas and the right to access work, health and welfare services.

“These men are all recognised by the Australian Government as refugees, yet they have been detained by that same government in Papua New Guinea or on Nauru for more than six years, followed by another year in the Mantra Hotel in Preston.

“The men were all brought to Australia under the former Medevac legislation for physical or psychological treatment yet they have received virtually none. Instead, they are locked up like criminals, adding to the psychological damage they have endured.

“Shortly after the men were transferred from the Mantra to the Park, a 29-year-old Somali refugee tried to jump off the roof in the early hours of 22 December.

“Rather than shutting down this mental distress factory and freeing the refugees into the community, Border Force has increased the psychological torture by tinting the Park Hotel windows so protesters and the public cannot see the men.

“Visits by supporters and even practical gifts are now banned, supposedly because of COVID-19. Yet the men are closely supervised by guards who come and go without health checks and frequently wake the men at night for snap inspections.”

Glanz said this nightmare had to be brought to an end. “Minister Alex Hawke says the men can return to PNG or Nauru – but that is simply not true. Neither government is accepting Australia’s refugees.

“If the minister said the word, the men could walk out on to Swanston Street tomorrow and be welcomed into the homes of refugee supporters across Melbourne.

“Seven refugees have already been released on legal grounds, with more cases before the Federal Circuit Court next month. There is no justification for dragging out the process any longer.

“The campaign to free the Park Hotel detainees has the support of unions, Greens and Labor MPs, local councils and social justice and community organisations. We call on Anthony Albanese and Daniel Andrews to join us – to speak out and say enough is enough, free the Medevac refugees.

“This cruel situation was created by Australian governments over the past two decades. Scott Morrison and his ministers should hang their heads in shame for organising for this suffering to continue.

“Throw open the doors to freedom!”

NOTE: This is a COVID-safe event. Participants are encouraged to register their attendance, wear masks and socially distance. RAC will make a QR code, masks and sanitiser available on the day.

For interviews or more information: RAC spokesperson David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Visits suspended at detention centres in Victoria

5 January 2021

As of Monday 4 January 2021, all in-person visits to detention facilities and alternative places of detention in Victoria have been suspended by the Australian Border Force (ABF), which they claim is a response to the developing COVID-19 situation. Visitors can no longer drop-off or pick-up gifts, property or other items in-person.

“The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) continue to be on high alert about the deteriorating physical and mental health of all detained refugees,” said Chloe de Silva for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Cancelling visits is effectively an ABF admission that they are not confident of COVID control in detention.

“It is both alarming and frustrating that instead of releasing the Medevac refugees into the community where they can safely socially distance, the Federal Government has chosen to deprive them of visitors.

“Cancelling visitors is completely unnecessary considering the glass partitions that currently exist, mandatory mask-wearing (making a double barrier), and the extra restrictions that were placed on visitors after the hard lockdown ended in Melbourne. All visitors are required to undergo security screening and only permitted to visit one detainee per visit, for one hour, under the frequent watch of Serco guards.

“There is no physical contact during visits due to the new glass barriers separating the visitors from the refugees, making it difficult to hear and communicate.

“Cancelling visitation rights is not a solution or commitment to the safety and protection of refugees from COVID-19, when they are being forced to remain indoors, share toilets, bathrooms, sinks and now bedrooms at the Park Hotel. The refugees have no privacy as they are constantly surrounded by guards. Just last week, a Serco guard ransacked one of their bedrooms.

“RAC has no faith in Serco or Australian Border Force to manage a virus outbreak in a detention centre, after Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak was linked to transmission from security at quarantine hotels.

“The 60 men currently detained at the Park Hotel prison in Carlton were recently transferred from the Mantra Hotel prison where they were traumatised during the height of the pandemic – not able to socially distance with a heavy rotation and presence of Serco guards, who were without PPE.

“The government is hardly committed to the health of the Medevac refugees, most of whom have been denied proper medical treatment for months after being brought to Australia almost a year ago under the Medevac transfer scheme.

“They were brought onshore after being imprisoned on offshore detention camps for more than seven years. Many of the refugees currently trapped in the Park Hotel and MITA are suffering with acute health problems, including mental health illnesses, which have been made worse by detaining them indefinitely in hotel detention, without proper medical care.

“The Federal Government continues to ignore repeated calls, including from peak medical bodies, to free all refugees from detention into the community so that they can properly access health care and have the support of family and friends. The government must consider the futility and cruelty of locking up innocent people seeking protection. The Victorian Government should not remain silent about this ongoing human rights disaster.

“RAC has initiated a rally, supported by over 40 organisations, this Saturday to show solidarity with the Medevac refugees and demand the government end their suffering by granting them freedom and permanent protection.The rally will be held this Saturday 9 January 2pm at the State Library, 328 Swanston Street in the city, followed by a march to the Park Hotel Prison, 701 Swanston Street, Carlton, by 3pm,” concluded de Silva.

Call Chloe De Silva for more information on 0484 938 949.

Rally details: https://fb.me/e/hWMhEDvVR

Speakers include:

  • Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus) – refugee detained in the Park Hotel, live via phone
  • Farhad Bandesh – recently released Medevac refugee
  • Ged Kearney – federal Labor MP for Cooper
  • Speaker from the Greens
  • Craig Foster – football legend and #GameOver campaigner, via phone from Sydney
  • Pip Carew – Assistant State Secretary, Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation
  • Ahmad Hakim – Refugee Voices

Daily protests continue over Christmas to call to free refugees in the Park Hotel

24 December 2020

“Concern over refugees held at the Park Hotel continues to grow,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective. “People are bored, frustrated and angry that they are still in detention.”

The 29-year-old Somali refugee who attempted to jump off the roof of the Park Hotel on Tuesday told the Refugee Action Collective: “The Park Hotel is worse than Manus. We are just sitting; there is nothing to do all day.”

The Somali refugee is one of the people who signed to go back to PNG early this year. He has spent one quarter of his life detained by Australia.

“The Coalition government claims that refugees can return to PNG or their home countries but this is a lie. The government has no plans for their future and must release the men,” continued Breen.

“Even over the Christmas period when everything in Australia stops the protests are continuing.

There is a protest today at 3.30pm at the Department of Home Affairs, Immigration & Citizenship, Casselden Place, 2 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. It will then march to the Park Hotel, 701 Swanston Street, Carlton, to join the daily protest at 5pm and call to free all the refugees held there.

Speakers today include:

  • Ramsi (Ramsiyar Sabanyagam) – refugee detained in the Park Hotel
  • Samira Karimi – organiser of the daily protests

Another protest is planned for Christmas Day from 10am -10pm,” concluded Breen.

Call Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective on 0403 013 183 or Apsara Sabaratnam, snap action organiser, on 0407 817 559.

Medevac refugee attempts suicide at Park Hotel, Melbourne

23 December 2020

“A 29-year-old Somali refugee told a refugee advocate that he became frustrated with security and ‘tried to jump off the roof’ of the Park Hotel in Carlton in the early hours of Tuesday morning (22 December). The man said he has been taken to Broadmeadows detention centre (MITA) where he is being held in isolation,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Seven Medevac refugees with cases before the Federal Circuit Court have been released in the last two weeks and refugee case managers have been asking refugees to provide contacts in the community who can support them.

“This raised their hopes of release, which were cruelly dashed by the forced move of around 60 refugees under heavy police escort from the Mantra Hotel to the Park Hotel. The move was cruel and unnecessary. The government cannot hold these refugees forever, but refuses to tell them what their future will be.

“The refugees have been held by Australia for seven and a half years, one and half in Australia. They came for medical treatment under Medevac legislation but their mental and physical health continues to deteriorate in prolonged indefinite detention. One in five in the detention hotels have self-harmed or attempted suicide. The refugees must be released immediately. Both the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, have the power to free them – they have already freed seven, they must free the rest before there are more tragic incidents,” concluded Breen.

There is a protest today at 3.30pm at the Department of Home Affairs, Immigration & Citizenship, Casselden Place, 2 Lonsdale St Melbourne. It will then march to the Park Hotel, 701 Swanston Street, Carlton, to join the daily protest at 5pm and call to free all the refugee held there.

Speakers include:

  • Adam Bandt – leader of Australian Greens
  • Mohammad Daghagheleh – Refugee Voices
  • Betelhem Tibeu Zeleke – ex Nauru refugee and detention survivor
  • Chris Breen – Refugee Action Collective

Refugee snap action organiser, Apsara Sabaratnam (former Greens candidate for Melbourne Lord Mayor) said: “We will be outside the Department of Home Affairs for the days leading up to Christmas to draw attention to its role in the torture of these 60 men.

“These men were brought to Melbourne as patients under the Medevac legislation to receive treatment but have not received the treatment they desperately need and instead are being treated as criminals despite having committed no crime. We intend to keep protesting outside this building until all 60 men are living in the community as free men.”

Call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183 or Apsara Sabaratnam on 0407 817 559 for more info.

Snap protest: Refugee supporters rally to close Melbourne’s new hotel-prison

17 December 2020

In a massive police and Serco operation this morning, around 60 Medevac refugees were transferred from the Mantra Hotel in Preston to the Park Hotel, 701 Swanston Street.

An emergency rally has been called for 5pm today, Thursday (17 December) to demand the immediate release of all the Medevac refugees from Melbourne’s new hotel prison.

Facebook event here.

Speakers include:

  • Mostafa Azimitibar (Moz), from inside the Park prison
  • Farhad Bandesh, recently released refugee
  • Samantha Ratnam, leader of the Victorian Greens
  • Gaetano Greco, Deputy Mayor of Darebin Council
  • More tba

The transfer comes at the same time as two more Medevac refugees were released on bridging visas; one in Melbourne and one in Brisbane.

“The transfer is a traumatic and pointless exercise,” said Chris Breen, from the Refugee Action Collective.

“It is only a matter of time until the government releases them all. But after more than seven years, every day in detention just adds to the deliberate discrimination and abuse thay have already suffered.

“We are demanding that they are all immediately released – in Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin – on permanent visas with government support.”

For more information contact Chris Breen 0403 013 183.

ACTION ALERT: Don’t move them, free them

15 December 2020

Refugee supporters will gather at the Mantra hotel on Bell Street, Preston, at 5pm to demand that the 60+ refugees held there are freed.

DON’T MOVE THEM, FREE THEM! | Facebook

The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) will join activists who are mounting regular protests because the federal government has told the refugees that they will be moved to another hotel-prison.

Speakers tonight include:

  • Refugees from inside the Mantra (by phone)
  • Ged Kearney – Labor MP for Cooper (which includes the Mantra)
  • Luke Hilakari – Secretary Trades Hall Council
  • Samantha Ratnam – leader of Victorian Greens
  • Gaetano Greco – Deputy Mayor of Darebin
  • Alex Bhathal – community refugee advocate & former federal Greens candidate

David Glanz from RAC Vic said: “The move from one hotel-prison to another is an unnecessary act of cruelty that could further damage men suffering from mental distress after more than seven years in detention. The government can’t hold them forever; it should free them now.

“The men have been moved from place to place many times. The colour of the walls might change, but a prison cell is still a prison cell. The refugees resisted the forced transfer, when the Lombrum detention centre on Manus Island was closed in 2017. They have said they will resist this new move and have demanded freedom instead.

“These men are refugees who were brought here under the Medevac Act for medical treatment. But instead of providing care, the government has locked them up, two to a room, for 23 hours a day without access to fresh air.

“Five men in Melbourne and Brisbane were freed last week because it was possible they would win their case against the government in the Federal Circuit Court.

“They have been thrown on to the streets without accommodation or access to welfare payments, reliant on the kindness of the community. But at least they can sleep at night without being woken by guards in the early hours.

“We say all the detainees in the Mantra and around the country and offshore should be freed, with permanent visas and access to health care and welfare.

“We urge all refugee supporters to be at the Mantra at 5pm tonight and to join the regular protests when they can,” said Glanz.

For more information, call David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Action alert: Human rights refugee rallies, shine a light on injustice

7 years too long – free the refugees

10 December 2020

Rallies will take place in Melbourne on 10 December and 12 December, and in Sydney on 12 December, calling to free the Medevac refugees in the Mantra Hotel, MITA detention centre, Kangaroo Point and all around Australia.

On Global Human Rights Day, Thursday 10 December, refugee supporters will meet at 8pm at the Mantra Hotel, on the corner of Bell and Hotham streets, Preston. An in-person rally and candlelight vigil will be combined with a projection of people who have sent in photos calling to free the refugees. Live video of detained refugees will also be projected across from the Mantra hotel as they speak.

Speakers include:

  • Craig Foster, former Socceroo captain, football commentator and refugee advocate
  • Mostafa Azimbitar (Moz from Manus) refugee, musician and activist detained for more than seven years, via video from the Mantra Hotel
  • Farhad Bandesh – refugee, musician and artist detained for more than seven years, via video from MITA detention centre
  • Betelhem – Nauru detention survivor, in person

https://www.facebook.com/events/131605095132588

On Saturday 12 December refugee supporters will meet at the State Library, cnr Swanston and Latrobe streets, Melbourne, and other city locations, to mark Human Rights Day and call to free the refugees and give them a permanent home.

A press conference will be held at the State Library where speakers include:

  • Farhad Bandesh – refugee held in MITA detention centre, live via phone
  • David Manne – Refugee Legal
  • Flora Balik – Refugee Voices
  • Nazir Yousafi – refugee and Afghan community representative
  • Pip Carew – Assistant Secretary AMNF
  • Music from Phil Hudson from Love Makes a Way

https://www.facebook.com/events/1118741455209073

Both events will be COVID-safe. Participants including media are asked to wear masks, practise social distancing and register here:
https://forms.gle/AYRMb6akyRmFNpEe7

“Australians returning home from overseas are concerned about spending two weeks in hotel quarantine – just imagine being confined to a hotel room for over 70 weeks. We cannot turn a blind eye to the continuing and totally unnecessary and damaging detention of the Medevac refugees – they must be released to the community now. It is beyond time to give the refugees who have come here for medical treatment from PNG and Nauru a permanent home,” said Marie Hapke from the Refugee Advocacy Network.

“Next year will mark eight years since the refugees at the Mantra Hotel have been imprisoned by Australia,” said Chris Breen from the Refugee Advocacy Network.

“First for six years in PNG and Nauru, and now for well over a year in hotel detention. They came under the Medevac legislation, but most have not received the treatment they came for and instead their physical and mental health continues to deteriorate. One in two have self-harmed or attempted suicide in MITA detention centre and one in five at the Mantra hotel. These refugees are not being processed or treated, they are being tortured for political gain. It would cost nothing other than political embarrassment for the Coalition government to release them.

“As Christmas approaches, we are calling for the indefinite refugee lockdown to end, for these refugees to be released and allowed to stay permanently. The 300 remaining in PNG and Nauru, must also be brought here for resettlement. Seven years’ detention is too long. The only crime is what has been done to these refugees: they must all be set free,” concluded Breen

The rallies are organised by the Refugee Advocacy Network.

For further comment call Marie Hapke on 0409 252 673 or Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.

The Sydney Human Rights Rally calling to Free the Refugees will be on Saturday 12 December at 2pm at Sydney Town Hall. Call Ian Rintoul on 0417 275 713 for details.

Accor CEO asked to end use of hotels for refugee detention

3 December 2020

Political leaders, human rights defenders, international lawyers, community advocates and people seeking asylum have signed an open letter to the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Accor Group, Sébastien Bazin, calling on him to end the use of Accor hotels to detain refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.

Australia under the Liberal-National Coalition government has a hardline asylum policy that denies permanent protection to people who claim asylum after arriving by boat. While a military operation has prevented boats from reaching Australian territories since the end of 2013, people who arrived before that time are now in their eighth year of detention, most of which was in offshore camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The people being held in Accor hotels were originally detained offshore before being brought to Australia for medical treatment.

The letter notes that “Accor prides itself on its ethical and socially responsible standards” and calls on Mr Bazin to put a stop to “the participation of the Mantra and Mercure hotels in the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum-seekers.” Since refugees and asylum-seekers started to be detained in Accor hotels in 2019, the letter explains, their “health has continued to deteriorate, as all are still waiting for the freedom that they urgently need, and many also for treatment”.

The letter was initiated by the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria), a grassroots, voluntary activist group that campaigns to protect refugee rights. Signatories include:

  • award-winning writer and filmmaker Behrouz Boochani, who had previously been held in offshore detention
  • Michele O’Neil, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the peak body for the Australian union movement
  • Jo-anne Schofield, President of the United Workers Union (UWU), which represents workers in the hospitality industry
  • Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne and Leader of the Australian Greens
  • Ged Kearney, Labor member for Cooper (the electorate that includes the Mantra hotel)
  • Professor François Crépeau, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. One of Professor Crépeau’s reports on the human toll of Australia’s asylum policy is quoted in the letter.

Speaking from the Mantra Bell City Hotel, one of the Accor sites used for detention, Mostafa Azimitabar called for change: “The reason that we were transferred to Australia is for medical help but the government have locked us up in this place, in this hotel, we cannot go outside. The managers of the hotel are using this place – which was a hospital before – as a jail. People in Australia don’t want to pay tax for my torture. Please let us live with our friends and family.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people detained in the Mantra Bell City Hotel have had no access to fresh air and no external visitors. During the pandemic, inadequate infection controls at the Mantra saw detainees staying in their rooms 23 hours a day to avoid proximity to untested, non-masked guards. Recently, construction works have begun in neighbouring floors, exposing them to noise for several hours a day. The local authorities in Darebin City Council, where the Mantra Bell City Hotel is located, have launched investigations into the hotel’s operating permit.

Most of the individuals detained in Accor hotels were brought to Australia under a mechanism (now repealed) known as the “Medevac law”. Unlike others who had previously been brought to Australia for medical treatment and now live in community-based detention, they have been kept in closed detention, which is extremely damaging to their health. The Australian government has not articulated a plan for their resettlement. Community advocates are calling for their freedom and for concrete Australian government commitments to provide pathways for resettlement, along with appropriate medical and other support.

The use of hotels for immigration detention in Australia and elsewhere has attracted widespread opposition. Significant protests have taken place at Kangaroo Point Hotel in Brisbane (owned by Central Apartment Group), which is currently wholly used to detain refugees and asylum-seekers under similar arrangements to Accor hotels. In the United States, news that some hotels were taking contracts to detain asylum-seekers and migrants prompted the American Hotel and Lodging Association to publicly oppose the use of hotels for detention. Among others, Hilton has publicly committed not to take any further detention contracts, stating that “is not activity that we support or in any way want associated with our hotels”.

Highlighting Accor’s isolation in the industry, RAC (Vic) spokesperson Eleanor Davey emphasised Accor’s untenable position: “Accor is broadcasting its support for refugee rights while hoping no one will notice that its hotels in Australia are serving as refugee prisons.”

Accor’s own policies pledge to uphold human rights and ethical standards. Globally, Accor is a member of the Tent Partnership for Refugees and first committed to the United Nations Global Compact for business and human rights in 2003. In 2014, Accor in Australia received the Business Inclusion award from the Migration Council of Australia for its initiative to recruit and train 100 refugees over a six-month period. The consistent use of the Mantra Bell City Hotel to detain refugees and asylum seekers began in 2019. It is unclear whether Accor’s human rights and social responsibility partners are aware of its role in refugee detention.

For media comment, contact Eleanor Davey 0475 036 670 or Chris Breen 0403 013 183.

Refugee advocates seek International Criminal Court prosecutions for crimes against humanity

30 November 2020

“The Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) has written to 13 United Nations refugee bodies and the International Criminal Court, making a renewed call for prosecutions of past and present Australian Prime Ministers, Immigration Ministers and senior officials,” said RAC (Vic) spokesperson, Peter Farago.

“RAC (Vic)’s letter alleges that asylum-seekers and refugees held in Australia’s immigration detention centres have been the victims of various crimes against humanity committed over many years.”

As Farago explains: “The crimes are alleged to have occurred at the offshore centres on Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island and continue to occur offshore and at the various ‘onshore’ centres, including several city hotels and the Christmas Island facility.

“The RAC (Vic) letter says the alleged crimes include forced deportation, causing severe mental or physical pain, deprivation of liberty, and persecution of innocent civilians. Yet the Australian office-holders responsible have never been brought to justice.” Farago explained that the ICC can only prosecute individuals, not governments, government agencies, or organisations such as companies.

RAC (Vic)’s letter refers to five previous submissions to the ICC, including RAC (Vic)’s own and that of independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

“But to date,” Farago notes, “the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has only responded to the Wilkie submission, ignoring the evidence in the other four. Further, that February 2020 response was only interim. The Office, claiming that Mr Wilkie didn’t provide sufficiently conclusive evidence, invited ‘new facts and information’ that could support prosecutions.

“So although RAC (Vic)’s letter disagrees with the Office’s assessment, that’s what we’ve done,” says Farago. “Our letter provides new facts and information, and urges the UN refugee bodies to join us in asking the Office to consider this new evidence, and prosecute.

“The new evidence includes, for example, the continued physical and mental pain, deprivation of liberty, extreme levels of self-harm, and continuing persecution amounting to torture being inflicted on the people (nearly all refugees) currently held in several hotels and detention centres.

“After being held offshore for six years, these people were flown here last year under the then ‘Medevac’ law, for ‘in-patient care’; but few of them are getting it. The severe damage to their physical and mental health, already caused by their previous offshore detention, is being exacerbated by continued detention onshore plus grossly inadequate health care,” says Farago.

“RAC (Vic) and many others, including health professionals, human rights lawyers, and asylum-seeker/refugee support groups, will keep urging their release into the community with proper health care and all necessary support,” says Farago. “RAC (Vic) is also campaigning to ensure that Australian office-holders, responsible for past and present alleged crimes against humanity, are brought to justice under international criminal law.”

RAC (Vic)’s letter setting out a Complaint and Submission is online.

For more information call Peter Farago on behalf of RAC on 0409 866 414.

Update on incitement charge against Chris Breen

18 November 2020

“The hearing for the incitement charge against Chris Breen has been adjourned for a full one-day hearing on Wednesday 27 January 2021,” said David Glanz for the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).

“It will be an online hearing in open court. Observers can contact the magistrates’ court to arrange attendance.

“The police prosecutor Anthony Albore acknowledged at today’s contest mention that using the charge of incitement in this way was a novel prosecution, and there was no existing case law for it – in other words police are attempting to create novel law to restrict the right to protest.

“This is a dangerous precedent that could be used in future against trade unions, or against any protest from climate strikes to Black Lives Matter rallies.

“The Refugee Action Collective calls on the Andrews Labor government to instruct Victoria Police to drop this attempt to restrict civil liberties and to drop the incitement charge against Chris Breen.

“RAC calls on the Andrews Labor government to challenge the Morrison government’s cruel indefinite detention of refugees rather than allow the criminalisation of those who are speaking out,” concluded Glanz.

Call David Glanz for more info on 0438 547 723.

Protest at court for refugee activist facing incitement charge

17 November 2020

A group of 10 refugee and civil rights supporters will gather tomorrow, Wednesday 18 November, at 10am outside the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for the contest mention hearing for Chris Breen.

The protest will take place physically but the hearing itself is online at 11am. It is in open court and observers are welcome to apply to the court to attend. [Contact David Glanz below for details.]

“Breen is charged with incitement for being one of the organisers of a COVID-safe car convoy protest on 10 April 2020 calling to free the refugees in the Mantra hotel, and others similarly detained who came to Australia under the Medevac legislation. Refugee supporters were fined a total of $50,000 for the protest but are contesting the fines,” said David Glanz for the Refugee Action Collective.

“The protest was COVID-safe with participants registering, and no more than two people from the same household per car. The Country Fire Authority and police themselves organised car convoys to celebrate birthdays in the same week that Breen was charged.

“The April 10 protest highlighted the abhorrent conditions and lack of COVID safety measures for refugees held at the Mantra detention hotel. Despite coming to Australia for medical treatment, they have often not received it, and their mental and physical health continues to deteriorate in detention. They remain detained after more than seven years and are in indefinite lockdown.

“Hundreds of organisations and individuals, including eight trade unions and five MPs have signed a statement calling for the charge to be dropped.

“The full hearing for Breen will likely be held early next year. If the charges against Breen are upheld it will have a chilling effect on the right to protest.

“Even now with zero cases of COVID-19 for over two weeks only 10 people at the same time are allowed to gather outside for a rally in a public place. Separate groups of 10 are not allowed to space out. This is very different from restaurant rules that allow 50 people outside. In streets with many restaurants, that can amount to thousands gathering in the same street.

“Premier Daniel Andrews’ roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions contains no route to restore the right to protest. There is no plan for allowing more than 50 people to legally protest no matter how long cases stay at zero.

“Premier Andrews also continues to maintain his silence on the Morrison government’s callous treatment of refugees indefinitely locked down in Victoria, despite his Labor colleagues Ged Kearney MP and Peter Khalil MP speaking out.

“The Refugee Action Collective calls for the charges against Breen to be dropped, for the fines against refugee supporters to be dropped, for COVID-safe protest to be allowed, and for the release of all the refugees held indefinitely in the Mantra Hotel and around Australia,” concluded Glanz.

Call David Glanz for more info on 0438 547 723.

Action Alert – Protest to free the refugees at the Mantra this Saturday 14 November

13 November 2020

Refugee supporters will protest outside the Mantra hotel in Preston at 2pm this Saturday 14 November, calling to free the refugees in the Mantra and others held indefinitely in Australia and offshore.

“The Coalition government’s indefinite detention of refugees in Australia’s detention network must end. The Mantra, MITA, Best Western Fawkner and all detention centres must close. After more than seven years, refugees must be released into the community on permanent protection visas,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).

Refugees have survived the offshore torture camps, medical evacuations, isolation, and months of heightened COVID-19 risk because of the conditions in detention. Mental distress and suicide attempts have escalated, one in five in the Mantra have self-harmed or attempted suicide, and one in two for refugees held in MITA.

Honan continued: “Refugees and asylum-seekers living in the community have been cruelly excluded from JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments. They have been left destitute, and relying on the much diminished capacity of charities. They deserve permanency and welfare rights now.

“Protests calling to Free the Refugees outside the Mantra hotel have been occurring daily since COVID-19 restrictions were eased. Last Saturday police facilitated a protest of 40 concerned residents and supporters to be in four spaced out groups of 10. However they have told RAC that protesters this Saturday will not be given the same treatment and that even if we spread groups of 10 out hundreds of metres apart ‘participants gathering for a common purpose may be exposed to receiving a fine’. Police have said we need to rotate participants in groups of 10 through time.

“This is blatantly political policing. Fifty people are allowed outside at restaurants, and those restaurants can be side by side making for thousands in one street, but only 10 are allowed to protest for refugee rights.

“Especially when there have been no COVID-19 cases for two weeks and there is no community transmission, Premier Daniel Andrews needs to end the discriminatory restrictions on political activity.

“Premier Andrews’ federal colleagues Ged Kearney MP and Peter Khalil MP have spoken repeatedly against Scott Morrison’s indefinite locking up of refugees in Victoria. It’s time for Andrews to end his silence on this issue. It’s time for Morrison to end his cruelty and free the refugees,” concluded Honan.

See the Facebook event.

*Free the Refugees – End Detention Now
*JobSeeker and JobKeeper for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

Speakers include:

Ismail Hussein – refugee detained in the Mantra hotel
Jana Favero, Director- Advocacy and Campaigns, ASRC
Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council

For further comment contact Lucy Honan from RAC on 0404 728 104.

Too much waste, too much cruelty: Refugee advocates call for Dutton to be sacked

6 November 2020

Dutton wastes $1.2 billion on “processing” 26 asylum claims; locks up very ill Medevac transferees, providing little health care; and evicts community detainees while ending their income support.

Via the growing number of federal financial scandals, the Morrison government has been, in effect, steadily self-sabotaging its claim to be Australia’s “best economic manager”.

“But”, says Max Costello, for the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria), “Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs has gone beyond sabotage. It has now totally demolished that claim – by squandering $1.19 billion on an almost non-existent program.”

Costello says: “Home Affairs, within its 2020–21 federal budget allocation, is spending $1.19 billion on ‘offshore processing’, even though the Regional Processing Centre on PNG’s Manus Island was closed on 31 October 2017, and Nauru’s RPC has been empty since 31 March 2019.

“The $1.19 billion figure was identified in the Refugee Council of Australia’s budget analysis.

“Compared to that $1.19 billion, the well-publicised government squanderings – such as $170 million on untendered Murray-Darling water buybacks, $30 million on Badgerys Creek land worth only $3 million, $118,000 on the ASIC chairman’s tax return expense, and $20,000 on Australia Post Swiss watches – are all just small change,” commented Costello.

“Home Affairs has form,” says Costello. “The Auditor-General has repeatedly castigated Dutton’s department for its lack of financial probity, most recently in May 2020 over the way it awarded Manus Island contracts costing $745 million.

“And, according to the Equity Economics estimate quoted in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s At what cost? report of December 2019, Home Affairs has spent a massive $9 billion on offshore and onshore detention over the four years 2016–20.

“At the heart of such squandering is politics – successive Australian government decisions to prefer offshore processing to complying with the Refugees Convention that Australia signed and ratified decades ago. It requires all asylum claims to be processed onshore, and detention to be strictly time-limited.

“Dutton’s mix of waste and cruelty inflicts an enormous human cost,” Costello explains. “For example, when refugees were flown to Australia after six years of offshore detention that had wrecked their health, what did Dutton do? Placed them in detention. They are still detained (mainly in hotels), and have often not received the health care they came here for, so their mental and physical health keeps deteriorating. It would make both financial and humanitarian sense to free them.

“But the squandering continues,” says Costello. “Although Home Affairs knows that, as at 31 August 2020, only 26 asylum-seekers were still having their refugee status claims processed offshore (on Nauru), it spends $1.19 billion on ‘offshore processing’. The cost to Australian taxpayers is about $46 million per claim being processed.

“So,” asks Costello, “who is getting the $1.19 billion – and for doing what? Such questions must be asked at Senate Estimates, and by the Auditor-General.

“The heads of ASIC and Australia Post resigned over expenditure totalling $138,000 on tax and watches. So why hasn’t Mr Dutton been sacked for expenditure of $1.19 billion on almost nothing, but to keep the cruelty of offshore processing alive?

“But,” adds Costello, “Dutton doesn’t just waste $1.19 billion on one asylum-seeker policy; he acts as a cruel cost-cutter in another. He’s writing letters (500 so far) to people in community detention, giving them three weeks to find – and pay for – their own accommodation, while also virtually ending their financial support. He doesn’t care if they face homelessness and starvation.

“RAC (Vic) says the policies Dutton implements must be replaced by bringing to Australia the people still stranded in PNG and Nauru; freeing asylum-seekers and refugees from detention (with financial and medical support); and promptly granting them permanent protection visas.”

RAC (Vic) has called a COVID-safe protest at the Mantra Hotel in Preston at 2pm on Saturday 14 November calling for the end to the human cost for refugees who were brought to Australia under the Medevac law and have now been detained for more than seven years.

For further comment call Max Costello: 0425 701 690 or Chris Breen: 0403 013 183.

Protest in pairs outside the Mantra Hotel this weekend, as detention self-harm incidents increase dramatically

9 October 2020

“Local refugee supporters will protest in pairs, hourly from 10am on Saturday 10 October to 5pm on Sunday 11 October, on Hotham Street outside the Mantra hotel in Preston, Melbourne (protesters all live within 5km of the detention hotel). They will call for the immediate release of all refugees into the community,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“The mental and physical health of refugees continues to deteriorate in detention. The ongoing harm from detention itself has been exacerbated by the risk of COVID-19 and the inability of refugees to protect themselves from that risk while detained.

“Self-harm is now at extraordinary levels. One in four have self-harmed in APODs (Alternative Places of Detention, which includes the Mantra) and outrageously one in two have self-harmed in detention centres called ITAs (Immigration Transit Accommodation, which includes MITA in Broadmeadows).

“At MITA in Broadmeadows, self-harm incidents have jumped from an average of 71.5 per year for the last four years to 99 for the first seven months this year – this is more than an effective doubling as it would extrapolate to 170 for the full year.

“It is abundantly clear that the self-harm is a direct result of prolonged indefinite detention. This is a brutal and cowardly crime being committed against refugees. Yet to date the only penalties have been for refugee supporters drawing attention to the crime.

“Police initially threatened to fine refugees supporters $5000 and charge them with incitement for protesting in pairs. They have since backed down, and now accept that protesting in pairs is legal social interaction under current health regulations.

“Protesting against the Coalition government’s crime of indefinite detention is essential. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews must ensure that democratic rights are not criminalised, and police overreach stops. He must also end his silence on the Morrison government’s cruelty to the Medevac refugees in the Mantra hotel and MITA detention centre.

“In 2016 Premier Andrews spoke out for baby Asha in Queensland, and similar refugees, calling for ‘compassion… because these children and their families aren’t some theoretical group of people overseas waiting to come to this country. They’re already here.’ He said they would be welcome in Victoria. It’s time for Andrews to step up and speak out for refugees already in Victoria.

“The refugees in the Mantra hotel and in the MITA detention centre must be immediately freed, along with those held around Australia, and those Australia continues to hold offshore,” concluded Breen.

For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.

Refugee activists hold projection protest at Mantra hotel

4 October 2020

Refugee rights activists projected protest photos onto the Bell City Mantra hotel in Preston where the federal government has detained refugees for over a year on Saturday 3 October.

The projection was visible to the refugees detained in the Mantra as well as local residents.

“The Morrison government must evacuate Mantra and all of Australia’s immigration detention centres immediately. The situation for refugees in the Mantra is appalling, with up to three people sharing a room and no room for social distancing in common areas,” said Refugee Action Collective organiser Lucy Honan.

“The men are surrounded at close quarters by Serco guards who fly in from all over the country.

“The Mantra is like a cruise ship on land – if COVID-19 breaks out, it could affect every refugee. These men came to Australia under Medevac legislation and have conditions like diabetes, respiratory problems, kidney disease and Crohn’s disease.”

RAC protest organisers said the projection had been planned to coincide with a relay of paired, socially distanced activists from within 5km of the Mantra. However, police initially threatened organisers with arrest and fines. The police backed down on Saturday morning after the in-person protest had been called off.

“The intimidation and threats from police are appalling and crushing the democratic right to protest. A RAC member has already been charged with incitement and 30 activists fined $1652 each for a COVID-safe car convoy protest. We will not stop organising safe protests to put pressure on the Morrison government to release refugees from detention,” said Honan.

Photos and videos of the projection are available on request.

Contact Lucy Honan: 0404 728 104.

Police threat to fine two people gathering to support refugees is ‘crushing dissent’

29 September 2020

Police say they will fine refugee supporters $5000 each if they stand in a pair, 1.5 metres apart, wearing masks, and within 5km of their homes, outside the Mantra Bell City detention hotel.

The Refugee Action Collective had planned to organise a series of COVID-safe gatherings, an hour apart, on Saturday 3 October to protest a Federal Government Bill that would deprive refugees and asylum-seekers in detention of their mobile phones.

RAC had also planned a media conference, which police say would also attract fines. “It is outrageous that Victorian police have become the arbiters of who can hold media conferences, of who can speak and who cannot,” said RAC spokesperson David Glanz.

Glanz said the Bill is scheduled to be debated in the Senate next week.

“Refugees are distraught at the possibility of being cut off from family and friends, and from using phones to expose abuse or COVID-safety failures within the detention system. This is an urgent humanitarian issue and demands an urgent, COVID-safe public response.

“The latest health regulations allow up to five people from two households to publicly gather outside for social interaction within 5km of their homes. RAC supporters who were planning to gather in pairs on 3 October would have met those requirements.

“Our protest would have posed no health risk and the threat of fines from police is completely unwarranted. It is a naked attempt to crush dissent,” said Glanz.

“The Premier and Chief Health Officer have both said that outdoor activities are 20 times safer than indoors.

“Are police seriously suggesting that two people standing 1.5 metres apart and wearing masks are a health threat just because they are holding placards criticising government policy?

“The regulations do not stipulate that people meeting for social interaction cannot talk about refugee rights or hold signs supporting refugees.

“Even under current health regulations, hundreds can enter supermarkets, primary schools are re-opening and 120,000 people are returning to work.

“RAC calls upon Premier Daniel Andrews and Jill Hennessy, the Minister for the Coordination of Justice and Community Safety: COVID-19, to advise police that their threat of fines is an outrageous over-reach and waste of public resources.

“Refugees’ physical and mental health continues to deteriorate in detention and the high risk of COVID-19 to detainees has not been seriously addressed.

“The problems facing refugees and asylum-seekers, like the 60 or so men imprisoned in the Mantra, are too serious and too urgent to wait until the pandemic is over. A healthy society needs the right to healthy protest. The refugees must be freed on both humanitarian and public health grounds,” said Glanz.

• Hundreds of refugee supporters will gather online in solidarity when RAC member Chris Breen fronts court on 2 October, charged with incitement in relation to a COVID-safe car convoy protest on Good Friday. More details.

For more information or interviews, contact David Glanz on 0438 547 723.

Refugee moved to high security after speaking out on COVID-19 – four now on hunger strike

3 August 2020

“Four refugees in immigration detention in Brisbane, Farhad Rahmati, Mehdi, Mehrzad and Adnan, are on hunger strike in protest at the apparent punishment of Adnan for his complaints over staff failure to use personal, protective equipment (PPE) and maintain social distancing,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Farhad Rahmati, a refugee currently held in Brisbane’s Immigration Transit Accommodation facility (BITA) after spending six years detained on Manus island, is today on day 4 of his hunger strike in protest against the removal of 22-year-old Adnan from BITA’s residential compound to the high-security compound, a place usually reserved for those who have committed serious crimes.

“Rahmati says that Adnan complained to a Serco manager at lunchtime on Friday 31 July that kitchen staff were not wearing PPE and that International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) staff were not wearing masks or practising social distancing.

“Between 3 and 4pm that afternoon Adnan was moved to the high security wing of BITA. Rahmati believes that Adnan was moved to the high-security wing because of his complaints.

“Adnan was only 15 when Australia forcibly transferred him to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre on 20 July 2013. He is now 22. He attempted suicide on 20 July 2020, the first day of his eighth year in immigration detention. He should not be held in high security isolation,” said Breen.

“Farhad says his own ‘next meal will be with Adnan when he is returned to BITA’s residential area’.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the severity of Australia’s cruel detention regime. Social distancing is impossible in detention centres. Refugees must not be punished for raising safety issues to do with COVID-19. Even if Serco were to deny that moving Adnan was a punishment, there is no good reason to keep an unwell young man in high security isolation.

“The Refugee Action Collective calls on the the Morrison Coalition government to release Adnan and all refugees into the community. RAC also calls on Queensland Premier Palaszczuk to demand the release of the refugees held in her State,” concluded Breen.

For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.

Mantra COVID-19 case confirmed: release the Medevac refugees

“A security guard who worked on the third floor of the Mantra Bell City hotel in Preston has tested positive to COVID-19. Australian Border Force informed refugees of the positive result last night. Workers in hazmat suits have been cleaning the third floor where refugees are imprisoned but refugees themselves still do not have adequate PPE,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“This positive case confirms all the warnings from refugee advocates about the risk of COVID-19 to refugees held in detention who are unable to physically distance or protect themselves from the virus. In addition, authorities are not proposing uniform testing for refugees as they have for other residents of Melbourne affected by outbreaks. Refugees have been offered optional testing and, if they take up the offer, will be required to isolate in solitary confinement while awaiting test results.

“Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus) a refugee held at the Mantra, said ‘Everyone is panicking, nobody could sleep last night. I could not get to sleep until 5am. ABF said they could not guarantee that we wouldn’t get infected, when I asked.’ Moz said that the security guard was from MSS security and last worked at the Mantra one week ago. MSS is one of the security companies linked to the leaks of COVID-19 from Victoria’s quarantine hotels.

“Australia’s acting Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, has called public housing towers ‘vertical cruise ships’. The detention centres and hotels are similar. Refugees who have committed no crime and who have been detained for seven years are now having their lives threatened by being held unnecessarily in cruise-like detention conditions. This is beyond cruel. This is a form of torture.

“Refugee supporters have been fined, and charged with ‘incitement’ for a safe car convoy drawing attention to the plight of the refugees in the Mantra. There have been zero cases of COVID-19 associated with protests for refugee rights. Meanwhile there are no penalties for authorities whose willful negligence has led to actual cases of COVID-19. Despite multiple warnings, government authorities continue to put refugees at risk of COVID-19 infection.

“The Refugee Action Collective calls for an independent inquiry to ascertain the facts about the potential exposure of refugees and guards, and for testing of all potentially exposed individuals to commence.

“The Refugee Action Collective calls on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to immediately release the Medevac refugees from detention in the Mantra hotel, and across Australia.

“We also call on the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to take action: instead of using Victorian health regulations to target refugee supporters who are shining a light on the cruel, unfair and unsafe conditions of refugee detention, the regulations should be applied to release the refugees to safety and freedom,” concluded Breen.

For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.

End the imprisonment in ‘vertical cruise ships’ for refugees and public housing tenants

8 July 2020

“As cases of COVID-19 have jumped dramatically in Victoria, the Andrews government has responded with authoritarian measures, and attempted to shift blame from its own mismanagement of the quarantine hotels onto individual behaviour, migrant families and public housing residents,” said Chris Breen for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Premier Daniel Andrews’ discriminatory hard lockdown of public housing residents, and silence on the indefinite lockdown of refugees in Victoria (many held in ‘hotspot’ suburbs), has made it clear that we are not ‘all in it together’.

“There are stark parallels between refugees locked indefinitely in the prison hotels and detention centres, and public housing residents mostly from migrant and refugee backgrounds imprisoned in their houses,” said Breen.

“Both tenants and refugees are trapped in situations in which it is impossible to socially distance. National acting Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly has called the towers ‘vertical cruise ships’. But the hard lockdown, as with the hard lockdown of refugees, risks creating exactly the cruise-like conditions that it claims to be addressing.

“Residents are trapped at close quarters with no escape. Those with COVID-19 are not being removed to isolation hotels but kept in conditions where it is impossible to maintain strict quarantine. There is no escape for elderly or immuno-compromised residents, just like there is no escape for immuno-compromised refugees who came to Australia under the Medevac legislation.

“Imprisoning public housing tenants in their homes, many of whom are refugees, and imprisoning refugees indefinitely, puts them at risk of COVID-19. It is a repeat of the mistakes that saw cruise ship passengers held for weeks at sea as COVID-19 spread among them.

“The Black Lives Matter protests that have exposed police racism show that police are not a neutral force in marginalised communities. Residents are fearful of the 500 police stationed across every floor of the towers, just as refugees are fearful of the power that Serco and Border Force guards exercise over their daily lives.

“The Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne calls for an end to the indefinite detention of Medevac refugees and an end to the hard lockdown for refugees and all residents in the public housing towers. Refugees and public housing tenants should have the same access to health care, groceries, essential goods, exercise, work and study as everyone else.

“The Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne and the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney have signed on to the Stand Together Against Racism (STAR) statement End the Public Housing Lockdown – Healthcare Not Racist Policing along with 460 other individuals and organisations,” concluded Breen

For further comment call Chris Breen on 0403 013 183.

Detention of refugees a blindspot in hotspot suburbs

1 July 2020

As Melbourne experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases, refugees remain locked in unsanitary and crowded conditions in the city’s north with hot spots popping up around them.

The 65 refugees who have been held in the Mantra Bell City Hotel for almost a year have serious underlying health conditions caused or worsened by years of detention offshore. The hotel is only a few blocks from Reservoir, one of Melbourne’s virus hotspots.

Around 40 refugees are held in the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, a suburb with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks and is among the list of postcodes announced on 30 June to have lockdown restrictions reintroduced.

The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) once again calls for the release of all refugees into the community.

“While the Victorian Government addresses the spike in cases in the community, the refugees in Mantra and MITA are being deliberately left in high-risk environments,” RAC spokesperson Meg Hill said.

“These refugees should not only be protected from the virus, but should be freed from all detention and released into the community. The conditions they are living in in the midst of a pandemic only serve to highlight the wilful negligence of the federal government’s treatment of refugees, and the Victorian government’s silence on this issue”

Moz Azimitabar, a refugee inside the Mantra Hotel, said the refugees had been deprived of sunlight and outdoor spaces. Detention in the hotel had always been tortuous, but the conditions worsened with the onset of the pandemic.

“We don’t have any facilities outside here but before [the pandemic] we had the chance to go to the MITA detention centre and get sunlight,” he said.

“But here our bodies are getting weaker day-by-day and we have no sunlight. I feel that we are getting very depressed. We spend 23 hours of a day inside our rooms because we feel the virus is outside.

“We have been transferred to Australia for medical help but instead the Australian Government is punishing us.”

Moz is one of the refugees that organises protests inside the hotel. His room mate Farhad Bandesh was moved to the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, but he said the other refugees share rooms.

“Security guards come several times a day to the rooms, we feel that they could bring the virus in. Apart from COVID-19 we feel that our mental health is deteriorating because we don’t have any private place,” he said.

“They come in at all hours without knocking, at 6.30am, 10am, 11pm, at any time.”

Premier Daniel Andrews has admitted that Victoria’s rapid uptick in cases is partially linked to transmission from security at quarantine hotels.

RAC therefore has no confidence that Serco or Australian Border Force will be able to manage an outbreak if the virus is brought into detention at the Mantra or MITA detention centre.

Moz also said the refugees often ran out of basic sanitary items like soap.

“I feel that they don’t have any plan for releasing us into the community. We have been locked up in jail for more than 2500 days and the two major parties are blaming each other instead of thinking about humanity,” Moz said.

“One guy attempted suicide here in May. Fortunately he is alive. They moved him to MITA instead of treating him properly after they took him to hospital. Instead of treating him properly they put him in another cage.”

For further comment contact Meg Hill on 0437 882 733.

Mobiles are essential, detention isn’t – reject the Bill to confiscate refugees’ phones

29 June 2020

“A proposed federal government Bill that would enable detention centre guards to strip-search detainees and confiscate their mobile phones is cruel and unnecessary,” said Max Costello for the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria).

“RAC (Vic) has documented this position in a submission to a Senate inquiry into the Bill, now publicly available alongside other submissions on the inquiry’s website. The only submission that supports the Bill is from Serco Australia, the company that employs the guards.”

“The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 is being examined by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which must report back to the Senate on 5 August. The government’s ‘case’ – its official reasons for the Bill, as stated in Immigration Minister Tudge’s parliamentary Second Reading speech – is little more than hot air, and unproven smears,” continued Costello.

“RAC (Vic)’s submission (no. 56) points out that, for individuals who have been subjected to torture, or other persecution in the country they fled from, strip searches, or the threat of them, would be psychological torture.

“Mobiles are lifelines, enabling convenient and confidential communication with family, lawyers, and support services. They have become even more essential since visits have been halted because of COVID-19.

“Mobiles also enable detainees to record their treatment and conditions within detention. Access to smartphones has helped expose abuses. Behrouz Boochani’s film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, exposing conditions in offshore detention, was filmed entirely on mobile phone. Increasing the powers of ABF and Serco staff would lead to more frequent and serious abuses, exacerbating existing threats being faced by people in detention.

“RAC’s submission argues that the proposed legislation is incompatible with Australia’s Human Rights obligations, and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) that applies to all detention facilities. In essence, the Act requires Home Affairs/ABF to pro-actively eliminate all preventable risks to the health (including psychological health) and safety of both detainees and staff.

“RAC (Vic) strongly recommends that the Bill be rejected in full. The immigration detention system already lacks openness, transparency and accountability. Endlessly detaining human beings outside the criminal justice system, often in breach of COVID-19 regulations, is remorselessly damaging the physical and psychological health of detainees.

“Refugees and asylum-seekers in detention must be set free, not punished further by confiscation of their phones, which are lifelines to the outside world,” concluded Costello.

Media contact: Max Costello 0425 701 690 or Marg Sinclair 0417 031 533.

RAC’s submission can be found here

All other submissions are available here

Protesters are safe, detention is not: a response to Commissioner Outram

20 June 2020

Protesters at Kangaroo Point APOD in Brisbane have been observing COVID-19 restrictions much better than people at shopping centres, markets, the 5G/anti vaxxer protests and even the police force themselves who have been present at the protests over the past month.

We believe the main reason for the statement put out by Michael Outram, Commissioner of ABF, was because he was against the protests in general as indeed he would be even if the COVID-19 pandemic was not current.

While many people held at the Kangaroo Point APOD (and the Mantra APOD) had indeed arrived under the Medevac laws, being held in detention was not a necessary part of that transfer. It was only a stipulation put in place by ABF who presented refugees on both Nauru and in PNG the ultimatum that if they wished to have a medical transfer to Australia, they would need to agree to be held in detention.

We have viewed this paperwork and would like to point out that the exact wording did not specifically say ‘held detention’. There are other forms of immigration detention that do not require either Serco guards or the held confines of an APOD or the current prisonlike reiteration of detention centres. Any time Outram or Tudge like they can release these people. It is disappointing but also unsurprising that they choose to keep these people incarcerated in detention.

It seems that the government has no preventative measures in relation to preventing the spread of this COVID-19 should it enter, beyond keeping possible cases in the rooms recognised widely as ‘punishment rooms’ and used for solitary confinement.

It was the actions and work culture of ABF refusing to follow the medical advice of medical professionals on both Manus and Nauru that led to the need for the Medevac legislation. However after arrival in Australia, the final decision on medical treatment was once again back in the hands of ABF and as a consequence, very few people have received any treatment.

The likely order to ‘go slow’ and join the long public health queues has meant that many people who arrived in Australia have been here for more than a year in circumstances which have led to their health further deteriorating.

It is disingenuous to see Outram recommend that people detained need to be encouraged to complete health treatment when he knows full well that the completion of that health treatment depends on him and ABF. Some people have been able to contact independent doctors and dentists who are willing to do the work without cost to the Australian government but every request to allow this treatment was denied. Instances of this occurred long before COVID-19 made its way to our shores.

There is no reason why these men and women in detention can’t be released. They have passed security checks, can better access medical treatment, can meet up with friends, some of whom arrived on the same boats and have been allowed to resettle here in Australia.

It is particularly worrisome that Outram continues the government propaganda line that somehow ABF ‘care’ for people detained, when he actively delays proper medical treatment, and is so eager to see them off to America, which is currently in a health and societal mess, or back to their home countries as though he is unaware of the wars, torture and persecution that caused them to become refugees in the first place.

We call for ABF to be dismantled, and a return of the more honest and civilised ‘Customs’. We call on the Australian government to end their character assassination of refugees, and to release these people from immigration detention. There is no ‘administrative’ point to them being there and everything ‘punitive’ about how they have been treated.

We call out that the real motive for them being kept in detention is out of the sheer spite of Peter Dutton who had/has a bad case of sour grapes that they had arrived in Australia legally through the Medevac legislation which he did not support.

Media contact: Margaret Sinclair, 0417 031 533

Official War Artists condemn silencing of refugee artist

20 June 2020

Australia’s Official War Artists have come out in condemnation of the punitive treatment of a fellow artist held in detention by the Australian government.

Kurdish artist and musician Farhad Bandesh has been in detention since 2013, when he first came to Australia seeking asylum, including six years in Papua New Guinea and 11 months in facilities around Melbourne.

On 23 April 2020, while moving him from one site to another, authorities confiscated his art materials—materials through which Bandesh channelled his creativity in order to cope. This action followed his speaking out publicly on ABC’s Q+A about risks facing people in immigration detention.

The Official War Artists’ letter will be published on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2020, on the website of the National Association for the Visual Arts. All but one of the currently active Official War Artists have signed the letter, declaring that: “We condemn the silencing of a fellow artist and the suffering of all those who, like Farhad, have spent years in offshore detention and are still waiting for their freedom.”

The letter affirms “the power of a free voice in an unfree system” and the importance of artistic expression among the statements “that refugees and asylum-seekers have made to depict and resist their detention, to share their humanity with the outside world.”

Speaking from confinement in MITA, Farhad Bandesh welcomed the statement of solidarity and highlighted the hardships to which he and fellow detainees are subjected. “First I would like to thank the artists, and those who have worked with this project. I have a question why an artist can’t have art supplies, why the Australian policy treats innocent people in cruelty way? I ask all artists, musicians and actors be united and speak out loud about artists’ rights.”

The Official War Art Scheme is managed by the Australian War Memorial and is Australia’s oldest art commissioning program. Artists are embedded with Australian military forces in conflict zones and peacekeeping missions.

Among the signatories are some of Australia’s most celebrated artists, including multiple winners of the Archibald Prize and other honours. One artist was unreachable. The statement has been prepared independently of the AWM.

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green were appointed as Official War Artists in 2007, one of several commissions relating to the Middle East. “The scary intensity we felt in active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified our profound empathy for all those who flee their homes in times of conflict,” said Brown and Green, who work collaboratively. “Refugees deserve to be given a chance.”

When Bandesh was brought to Australia under the Medevac law, as he explained recently to writer and refugee advocate Arnold Zable: “I thought, maybe they will release me into the community. Maybe I will have an exhibition, a concert. Or maybe they will keep me here for years and years. I was here, in Melbourne, but I was not here. It was like a dream, but I was back in prison.”

People transferred under the Medevac law have been kept in closed detention, unlike others who had previously been brought to Australia for medical treatment and now live in community detention. Many among the Medevac group have reported not receiving the care for which the independent medical panel recommended their transfer. The law has since been repealed.

Artist Rick Amor pointed to the silencing of artists by 20th-century totalitarian states: “The idea of confiscating paint and brushes from detainees is not new. The Nazis did it. This is the latest of a string of measures designed to be ever more cruel to a group of people who are legally seeking protection in this country.” Amor was appointed as Official War Artist in Timor-Leste (then East Timor) in 1999 along with Wendy Sharpe, the first War Art commission since the Vietnam War.

“Withholding an artist’s materials is a cruelty—and like all the cruelties that asylum-seekers under our care experience, it’s entirely unnecessary,” said Esther Anatolitis, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

“I look forward to seeing an end to this practice, and indeed, to all practices that make life unbearable for people seeking asylum. Let’s take our duty of care seriously.”

NAVA, the national peak body of the Australian visual and media arts, craft and design sector, is publishing the letter via their website.

Signatories to the letter
Tony Albert, Official War Artist, Northern Australia, 2012
Rick Amor, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 1999
Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Official War Artists, Afghanistan and Iraq, 2007
Jon Cattapan, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 2008
Peter Churcher, Official War Artist, Middle Eastern operations, 2002
Megan Cope, Official War Artist, Middle Eastern operations, 2017
eX de Medici, Official War Artist, Solomon Islands, 2009
Shaun Gladwell, Official War Artist, Afghanistan, 2009
Lewis Miller, Official War Artist, Iraq, 2003
Susan Norrie, Official War Artist, Iraq, 2016-2019
Ben Quilty, Official War Artist, Afghanistan, 2011
Wendy Sharpe, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 1999

For more information contact Eleanor Davey at ekd@eleanordavey.com

Action alert: Police threaten refugee rally

12 June 2020

Refugee Lives Matter – 7 Years Too Long – Free Them Now!

Refugee supporters will protest the indefinite detention of refugees at eight locations in Melbourne simultaneously at 2pm on 13 June.

The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) (RAC) has initiated the protest as part of a National Day of Action that will include protests in Brisbane and Sydney.

There will be actions in Melbourne at Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston, the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, Border Force in Docklands, Casselden Place Home Affairs Office, Liberal Party Headquarters at 60 Collins Street, the State Library Victoria, State Parliament and Immigration Minister Alan Tudge’s office.

Protesters have changed plans for the action to be centred on two locations, the Mantra Bell City Hotel and the MITA detention centre, due to threats of massive fines from police.

“As a global wave of protest spreads against racism and police impunity, it is outrageous that Preston police are threatening refugee supporters with their own peculiar interpretation of health regulations,” said Chris Breen for RAC.

Meg Hill for RAC said: “The Preston police told us that if we have more than 20 people, even in rotating groups of that size at different times (previously allowed by police), at the Mantra Bell City Hotel we will be in breach of the health laws and fined. This is a politically biased interpretation of the health laws and an infringement on the right to protest.

“Restaurants and businesses are allowed to have 20 people constantly rotating different people throughout the day. If customers were counted in this way, the shops would have to close each day after they reached maximum.”

Chris Breen said: “RAC calls on the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Chief Health Officer to explain the discrepancy. RAC also calls on Daniel Andrews to end his silence over the Coalition’s continued imprisonment of Medevac refugees in conditions that do not comply with Victorian health regulations, and put refugees at risk of COVID-19.”

RAC is protesting the long-term detention of these refugees.

Meg Hill continued: “The people in the Mantra Hotel have been in detention for almost seven years. They were brought to the mainland for medical treatment and so are an at-risk group now forced to stay locked in crowded and unclean conditions while a deadly pandemic has spread across the world.

“This is just one more layer added to an already cruel and distressing situation.”

The 65 refugees trapped in the Mantra hotel in Preston have protested their abuse and unsafe conditions, as have the 46 refugees at the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, and the 108 held at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane.

RAC is calling for those in detention across Australia to be immediately released into the community and given permanent protection. The protest will hear from refugees inside Mantra, MITA and Christmas Island detention centres, unionists, activists and others.

The event is on Facebook.

For comment ring:

Angelica on 0478 686 370

Mitch on 0406 820 184

Meg on 0437 882 733

Chris on 0403 013 183

Details of the separate locations are below.

Mantra Hotel: 215 Bell Street, Preston

Contacts: Angelica Panopoulos 0478 686 370 and Mitchell Booth 0406 820 184

Speakers: (in person) Jana Favero – ASRC, Lidia Thorpe – former Greens MP for Northcote, Robin Rothfield – Labor 4 Refugees, Aran Mylvaganam – Tamil Refugee Council

Speakers: (by phone) Moz from Manus – detained at the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, Priya – detained on Christmas Island

MITA Detention Centre: 120-150 Camp Road, Broadmeadows

Contacts: Margaret Sinclair 0417 031 533 and Max Costello 0425 701 690

Speakers in person: Kath Larkin – RTBU Women’s officer

Speakers (by phone or pre-recorded) Moz from Manus – detained at the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, Priya – detained on Christmas Island

Australian Border Force: 1010 Latrobe Street, Docklands, near Marvel Stadium

Contact: Chris Breen 0403 013 183

Department of Home Affairs: Casselden Place, 2 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Contact: Chris MacPherson 0436 010 575

Victorian State Library: 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne

Contact Jacob Andrewatha 0458 958 385

Liberal Party of Australia headquarters: 60 Collins Street

Contact: Kerry Leane 0419 274 614

Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge’s office: 420 Burwood Highway, Wantirna South

Contact: Pru Licht 0447 546 327

Victorian Parliament House, Spring Street

Contact: Lucy Honan 0404 728 104

The Sydney protest will be 2pm on 13 June at Town Hall Square

The Brisbane protest will be 2pm on 13 June at 721 Main Street, Kangaroo Point

Action alert: Refugee supporters to rally at Mantra in staggered groups of ten

15 May 2020

“From 2pm this Saturday May 16, refugee supporters will be protesting in relay form, in staggered groups of 10 outside the Mantra hotel detention centre in Preston,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Pressure is mounting on the Federal government to release the refugees held in detention. The recent actions at the Mantra hotel and MITA detention centre by activists and refugees have also intensified pressure on the Andrews government to speak up and to use health powers to release refugees.

“This protest will keep up the pressure, and comply with the new COVID health directions. We will conduct a protest relay, rotating through groups of 10 socially distanced protesters at a time.

“The protest area will be on Hotham Street, near the big refugee banner, opposite Bell City Mantra.

“The attempted suicide by hanging of a 32-year-old Tamil man at the Mantra shows that refugees are at breaking point. They have spent almost seven years locked up having committed no crime, and the threat of COVID-19 is adding to the pressure on their mental health.

“We will call to free the refugees held across Australia and to drop the charge and fines on refugee supporters for their safe car convoy protest on April 10.

“We will have loudspeakers with speakers including Moz from Manus via phone from the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, former Victorian MP Lidia Thorpe, Darebin Councillor Gaetano Greco, and Farhad Banesh from MITA via phone,” concluded Honan.

For comment, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.

https://facebook.com/events/s/detention-is-a-covid-risk-rele/541999746733208/

Serco denies art materials to outspoken refugee

13 May 2020

Home Affairs and Serco forcibly moved Farhad Bandesh from the Mantra Hotel in Preston to MITA in Broadmeadows over three weeks ago. They continue to deny him access to his personal effects, including art supplies.

This appears to be an act of punishment for taking a public stand for his rights on the Manus Island refugee prison, in the Mantra Hotel and now in MITA.

He submitted a request form for his property items as directed, requesting access to his books, drawing pencils, brushes, paint and other creative materials.

Over these three weeks he repeatedly asked about the request. Each time he enquired he was directed to submit another request form – seven in total – as well as following up verbally with the manager several times. He was told yesterday that he will not be getting his property items. They gave no explanation.

Farhad fears his mental health will deteriorate as it is art that keeps him able to sustain himself. “And I can’t handle the fences. They are killing me.

“After seven years they still want to make us suffer any way they can. We are all sick, we need to be free. We have been tortured and tortured. They must remove us from this cruel hell,” he said.

Other people detained are allowed to have such items. This appears to be a direct punishment for him speaking up against this cruel policy.

Yesterday’s attempted suicide by a 32-year-old Tamil man at the Mantra should be enough evidence that the cruelty must end.

“Farhad has spoken out repeatedly against the refugee policy of successive governments,” Mitch Both, Refugee Action Collective spokesperson, said.

“The removal of Farhad from Mantra under cover of darkness three weeks ago was a punishment imposed for exercising his basic democratic rights to protest the appalling treatment he has suffered. This is yet another punishment. Farhad must be released.”

For comment call Mitch Both on 0406 820 184.

Police show political bias on protesting once again

10 May 2020

Just one day after police mobilised outside the Mantra Bell City hotel in Preston to fine three people exercising safely with pro-refugee posters, a crowd of over 100 anti-lockdown protesters without social distancing has been allowed to assemble outside State Parliament.

Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Lucy Honan said the police had twice turned out in numbers to shut down socially distanced solidarity action with the 65 refugees locked up in the Mantra and at grave risk of becoming a COVID-19 cluster.

“On Good Friday, they arrested one RAC supporter, Chris Breen, and charged him with incitement, and fined 30 refugee supporters who attended almost $50,000. The protest was not allowed to take place at all.

“Yesterday, they fined three refugee supporters exercising outside the hotel a total of five times.

“In shutting down our safe protest on Good Friday, Inspector Tom Ebinger from Darebin police said ‘Protest activity is not an exemption … There were here for an honourable purpose but community health has got to take priority for us and protest activity isn’t legal in the current environment.’

“Yet the police allowed an unsafe, right wing protest to take place in Trafalgar and have now allowed over 100 to crowd in on the steps of Parliament,” Honan said.

“This is total hypocrisy and shows the Victoria Police are politically biased.

“We call on Premier Dan Andrews to support the right to protest within the spirit of the health regulations, and to stop his police force from discriminating against refugee rights supporters.

“Meanwhile the men in the Mantra, who are suffering a range of medical conditions, are trapped and in fear of a COVID-19 outbreak. Premier Andrews needs to speak up for these refugees detained in Melbourne.

“They should be freed and the charge and fines against refugee supporters dropped,” Honan said.

For comment, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.

Support for Breen and the others is growing, with five unions, three senators and six state MPs among the many backing the call for the charge and fines to be dropped. See a full list.

Police fine refugee supporters for carrying placards

9 May 2020

In another disgraceful display of an authoritarian state attacking the right to protest, Victorian police have again turned out to fine refugee supporters for being outside the Mantra hotel-prison that is holding 65 refugees in unsafe conditions.

“Despite announcing that the exercise protest at the Mantra Hotel had been postponed, Victorian police nonetheless turned out in numbers to issue fines to anyone carrying a placard outside the Mantra Hotel,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Three people exercising and carrying signs saying ‘detention is a covid risk’ had their details taken and were told they would get fines in the mail. Two were told by police that they will be fined twice ($3304 each) for not leaving quickly enough. People not carrying signs were not fined.

“When thousands of people are exercising over the weekend in Darebin, it is crystal clear that these three refugee supporters have been targeted for their political views. It is the refugees at the Mantra hotel who are not safe, not refugee supporters carrying signs.”

Mark, who was fined twice today, said: “This ongoing imprisonment of innocent people and the blatant harassment of their supporters is a gross injustice and a naked exercise of punitive authoritarian power.”

Honan concluded: “The Refugee Action Collective calls on Premier Daniel Andrews to end his silence, to speak up for the refugees in the Mantra, and to call on his police to stop harassing and fining refugee rights supporters. Safe political protest calling to free refugees at risk of COVID-19 is an essential activity and must be allowed.”

The postponed RAC protest will go ahead at the Mantra hotel next Saturday, 16 May, at 2pm.

Video of the people being fined is available here.

Call Lucy from RAC on 0404 728 104 or fined protester Mark on 0420 544 084 for further comment.

Police threaten refugee supporters with hundreds of thousands in fines

7 May 2020

Preston police have threatened to issue mass infringement notices to refugee supporters if they exercise outside the Mantra Bell City hotel.

The Refugee Action Collective has been calling on people to take their exercise there this Saturday, 9 May, to show compassion with the more than 60 refugees detained in the hotel.

RAC activist Lucy Honan said: “Exercise or offering care are both legitimate reasons to be away from home. But the police are threatening to treat people walking or jogging at safe, social distance as public enemies.

“With up to 400 people indicating interest in exercising, that would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines – all for the crime of caring about men who have been detained on Manus or Nauru for six years and now for up to a year in Preston.

“Safe, socially distanced exercise is not a risk. Locking up men brought here under the Medevac Act with pre-existing medical and psychological conditions, up to three to a room for 23 hours a day, is the real health risk.

“If the coronavirus is brought in by one of dozens of staff members, the refugees are vulnerable and trapped. They should be freed into the community where there are people offering caring, safe accommodation,” Honan said.

“Daniel Andrews has to take a stand and treat these refugees with basic humanity. The emergency health powers must be used to free them from detention. He needs to call off the police repression of our basic democratic right to protest.

“Police recently allowed a right-wing protest in Trafalgar to go ahead for 40 minutes with no social distancing, taking no names for infringement notices.

“Refugee supporters exercising outside the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane, where more than 100 refugees are detained, have not been harassed by police, with another mass exercise called for Friday.

“Dan Andrews says he is the most progressive premier in Australia, but he is allowing his police to play blatant political favourites and crack down on our basic democratic rights. Andrews needs to end this attack on democracy,” Honan added.

For interviews, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.

Preston police have already charged a high school teacher, Chris Breen, and issued $48,000 in fines to 29 refugee supporters for taking part in a safe car convoy around the Mantra Bell City on Good Friday.

Support for Breen and the others is growing, with five unions, three senators and six state MPs among the many backing the call for the charge and fines to be dropped. See a full list.